Cambodia Should Drop the Charges Against Sam Rainsy – Or Give Him His Day in Court

For nearly seven years, Prime Minister Hun Sen has used every legal trick at his disposal to exclude his main rival from the country’s political life.

In a kind of reverse title inflation that has spiraled out of control, Cambodian court convictions and prison time handed out to opposition leader Sam Rainsy have continued to accumulate, even as the government allowed the opposition party he founded to contest local elections in June.

Between March 2021 and June this year, Sam Rainsy, who is now 73, incurred three more prison sentences, based on the same accusation of treason, totaling 43 years. This was in addition to the decades of prison time for which he was already liable for rebellion, sedition, interfering with border posts, insulting the king, and running up a long list of defamation convictions.

Yet the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen shows no sign of being willing to let Sam Rainsy enter the country to contest the charges or serve his prison sentences. He prefers to let him remain in exile in Paris, where he has been based since late 2015. Are the charges real or are they simply designed as a political statement? Do Cambodia’s courts act as courts or as a part of the government’s public relations team? A legal system that wants to be taken seriously would ensure that the charges are tried in court and punished in case of conviction.

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