Cambodia Political Repression Deepens

Mass convictions, farcical commune elections highlight continuing democratic backslide.

Cambodia’s political situation has continued to deteriorate, with its courts last week sentencing more of the government’s political opponents to prison terms on what critics and human rights activists termed baseless charges as Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party continued their democratic charade by holding local commune elections earlier this month.

On June 14, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted at least 51 opposition politicians affiliated with the now-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party on politically motivated charges of “plotting” and “incitement to commit a felony under articles 453, 494, and 495 of the Criminal Code. Among those arrested and hurriedly convicted was the Cambodian American democracy activist Theary Seng (pictured above) who was detained on June 14 and sentenced just three days later.

Some 31 of the defendants were sentenced to five to eight years, another 20 were handed five-year suspended sentences, while 27 were sentenced in absentia as they are living in exile. Those absent were forced to flee when the country’s court system, stacked with ruling-party appointees, dissolved the CNRP in 2017 after the party received a strong turnout in local commune polls. Since then, the government has rounded up CNRP affiliates who remained in the country, with last week’s show trial being the third of four mass sentences in which some 150 defendants face almost certain imprisonment.

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