In 2013, the Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha gave a speech in Melbourne, Australia, to a crowd that included members of the Cambodian-Australian diaspora. It was also broadcast on YouTube by the Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network. While Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Sen is now far from a democracy, Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution guarantees Cambodians the right to vote and stand in elections. According to his lawyers, Sokha spoke about transitioning Cambodia’s Government by democratic means from Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
In March of this year, Sokha was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment for treason for allegedly conspiring with the United States to overthrow the CPP via a “color revolution.” The key alleged evidence for the conspiracy was his Melbourne speech. Speaking after Sokha’s trial began, Hun Sen in November 2022 appealed to the Cambodian people to “please stay calm and allow the court to do its job according to the law.” After a pre-trial detention period that the United Nations deemed “arbitrary” and a trial held partly in secret, the court appears to have done the job Hun Sen wanted it to in convicting Sokha: a group of U.N. experts, including its special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, condemned the verdict as “politically motivated” and described it as part of an “ongoing pattern of the misapplication of laws to target political opponents.”