Eleven members of a group branded as terrorists by the government were handed five- to nine-year prison sentences on Wednesday, even as several defendants claimed they now supported the government after having previously been led astray.
“I support the CPP and please, people, vote for the CPP,” defendant Lat Liheng said after the verdict.
Ten members of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) were arrested in October 2014 over plans for what they said would be a peaceful demonstration in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. Authorities, however, claimed the protest was intended to sow violence and disorder.
At the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday, Presiding Judge San Sophat handed six-year sentences to seven of the arrested men and five-year prison terms to three others for plotting.
The 11th member, KNLF leader Sam Serey, who recently formed a “government in exile” from his home in Denmark, was sentenced to nine years in prison and a fresh warrant was issued for his arrest.
The KNLF advocates freeing “the Cambodian people from the Vietnamese neo-colony and dictatorship regime under Hun Sen,” according to its website. Mr. Serey claims the group has no violent intentions; however, his cause was not helped by a photograph released by police showing him and other men posing in a forest with guns and wearing camouflage.
At a hearing in October, 10 of the defendants claimed to have been duped by Mr. Serey into joining the KNLF, blaming him and opposition leader Sam Rainsy for their situation. Mr. Rainsy has denied any connection to the group.
Defendant Liv Yi said he supported Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP despite the verdict.
“We denounce Sam Serey, Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy, who duped us on October 23 to use us as a protective shield and gain political benefits,” he said, adding that he had already filed a complaint against Mr. Serey and Mr. Rainsy.
Mr. Channy is a CNRP parliamentarian and former head of the Sam Rainsy Party’s short-lived shadow defense cabinet, a position which earned him a seven-year prison sentence in 2005 for allegedly forming an illegal army.
“I have nothing to do with this matter,” Mr. Channy said on Wednesday.
Neang Hay, a lawyer for the 10 defendants, said it was up to his clients to decide whether to appeal the verdict, which he said centered on a request from his clients to City Hall to hold a demonstration.
“None of this is a big deal. They asked for permission, but were not allowed. That is it,” he said.
Reached by email from Denmark, Mr. Serey said the verdict was predictable.
“The court is only the political [tool] for the ruling party,” he said. “I welcome them at the International Criminal Court if they want to sue me.”
“We will continue to fight with them until they give us our rights and freedom as said in Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which are enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution, he added.