By Sophie Zwick, BA Politics and International Relations
On Thursday 14 January, a Cambodian court commenced a mass trial of around 150 human rights activists and affiliates of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The prosecution charges the defendants with plotting against the government and treason for supporting the planned return of exiled CNRP president Sam Rainsy in 2019. Human Rights groups criticise the trials for their political motivation and call for an immediate release of all accused individuals.
‘Mr. Hun Sen is not the owner of my life. He will not intimidate me with these charges.’
The Phnom Penh Municipal court is holding the first of two mass trials against government critics and supporters of the CNRP. The various accusations range from incitement to commit a felony, to criminal attempt. The latter is punishable by imprisonment of up to 30 years. Investigators claim that the defendants were involved in the planned return of exiled CNRP president Sam Rainsy to undermine the Cambodian government. Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American defendant, told reporters: ‘Mr. Hun Sen is not the owner of my life. He will not intimidate me with these charges. I will face them, and because they are a sham, they are not real charges.’
Rainsy, who legally cannot enter the country, told Al Jazeera: ‘Anyone who does not agree with the Hun Sen government is accused of treason.’
Prime Minister Hun Sen enters his 36th year as head of the Cambodian government. At the last general election in 2018, his Cambodian People’s Party secured all 125 parliamentary seats. Months before this election, the CNRP was dissolved by a Supreme Court ruling.
Yamini Mishra from Amnesty International explains: ‘This onslaught of cases is the culmination of a relentless campaign of persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition and other dissenting voices.’
On the day of the trial, there were accounts of security guards attempting to hinder reporters and human rights monitors from taking pictures in front of the courthouse. Security forces barred families and supporters of the defendants from seeing the accused.
The Cambodian Human Rights Organisation LICADHO places the mass trials within a long history of Hun Sen’s strategic oppression. In their recent Human Rights Report, the organisation highlights several arrests, violent dispersion of protests, and restrictions on press freedom. Reporters believe that Hun Sen will further consolidate his power and crack down on dissidents to prepare for the 2022 local and 2023 general elections.
Photo caption: A CNRP supporter demonstrating for democracy four years before the high court disbanded the party (Credit: Jacqui Collis99 licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0.).