A court in Phnom Penh sentenced around 60 opposition figures, including Theary Seng, an outspoken Cambodian-American activist, who appeared dressed as a Statue of Liberty during the hearing, during a a mass trial on Tuesday as longtime leader Hun Sen cracked down on dissent ahead of national elections next year.
Theary Seng is among dozens caught up in a campaign to detain and arrest former members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), human rights defenders and any dissenting voices.
“I am ready for a guilty verdict because this regime will not let me go free,” Seng said before his sentencing.
“It will be an unfair and unjust verdict because I am innocent, the others accused of me are innocent,” the 51-year-old added.
The defendants faced charges ranging from treason to incitement and conspiracy over opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s failed attempt to return to Cambodia in 2019, a move characterized by the government as an attempt failed to overthrow Hun Sen.
While some were senior officials of the now disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) directly involved in organizing the return, many were prosecuted simply for showing their support on social media.
After Seng was detained, there was a brief scuffle outside the courthouse between police and relatives of the convicted persons, as well as his supporters.
“We are deeply disturbed by today’s unjust verdicts,” a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh said, calling for his release and the others convicted.
The embassy has urged Cambodian authorities to “end politically motivated trials” against political activists, journalists and human rights activists.
“Freedom of expression and association, as well as tolerance of dissenting opinions, are essential elements of democracy,” US Ambassador Patrick Murphy added in a tweet.
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Sam Rainsy, who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid prison for convictions he says are politically motivated, was given an additional eight years on his current sentence.
He said: “The political repression against the opposition is becoming more and more violent, and I would also say more and more indiscriminate. It targets all spheres of society, and in fact aims at freedom of expression, which is not tolerated by some of the authorities. “
[with inputs from agencies]
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