Cambodia’s government yesterday convened its latest mass trial of opposition party activists and former lawmakers, as the country moves into its repressive pre-election season. A total of 37 defendants were summoned to the court in the capital, Phnom Penh, for the hearing, though only three were physically present, with the rest either in exile or in hiding, defense lawyer Sam Sokong said, according to Al Jazeera.
The defendants, most of them leaders of the disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), have been charged with conspiracy to commit treason and could receive a prison sentence of between five and 10 years if convicted. The allegations stem from an abortive attempt by a top CNRP leader, Mu Sochua, to return to Cambodia from self-exile abroad to face trial in a separate bogus case against her in January 2021. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government has characterized this attempted return, and a similar attempt by exiled leader Sam Rainsy in late 2019, as a plot to topple it from power.
The CNRP, which formed from the merger of two opposition parties in 2012, was forcibly disbanded in 2017, four years after coming close to toppling Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP at national elections, forcing most of its leadership into exile abroad. This left the CPP free to run virtually unopposed at the next national election of 2018, in which it unsurprisingly won all 125 seats in the National Assembly.