Thirty-one Cambodian activists and politicians were sentenced to six to eight years in prison, and twenty others to suspended prison terms, for “incitement and conspiracy to commit an act of treason”, Tuesday 14 June, in Phnom Penh, in the second of two mass trials brought against the political opposition in 2020.

These new verdicts, tainted, like those which precede them, by multiple sprains with the procedures and rough interpretations of the facts by a justice under close control of the government, complete the company of bringing back to the step of the opposition carried out by the Prime Minister , Hun Sen, the strong man of Cambodia, since 2017.

Among those sentenced to six years in prison is Theary Seng, a lawyer and human rights activist who also has American nationality, who came to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday morning dressed as a Statue of Liberty – she had introduced herself at the final hearing of the trial, May 3, dressed as Themis, the Greek goddess of justice.

This former survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime camps, who was accused of expressing in Facebook videos her support for the return from exile of dissident Sam Rainsy in 2019, was for the first time detained following of the verdict this morning. In a tweet on Tuesday, the US Ambassador to Cambodia said he was “concerned” by the verdict and called on the Cambodian government to release Theary Seng and “all those who have been unjustly convicted”. The NGO Human Rights Watch denounced “show trials”, through the instrumentalization of laws.

Unbearable threat to the ruling party

The two mass trials that concluded in March and May brought about 140 people to trial, including several dozen in absentia, accused of participating in and supporting the protest movements that followed the dissolution, by the Supreme Court in November 2017 , of the main opposition party, the National Rescue Party of Cambodia (CNRP). Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) then sued him claiming that the CNRP and its leaders were involved in “a conspiracy backed by foreign forces to overthrow the government. Cambodian”.

In reality, the PSNC, which had just made a spectacular breakthrough in the 2017 municipal elections, winning a third of the seats, posed an unbearable threat to the ruling party as the 2018 legislative elections approached. neutralized, the CPP then won all the seats in Parliament.

In 2019, the attempt of Sam Rainsy, the co-founder of the exiled PSNC in France, and another leader, Mu Sochua, to return to Cambodia to face trial was the pretext for a new wave of arrests – Mr. Rainsy, who was not allowed to board a plane to Phnom Penh, was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison in absentia, Mu Sochu to twenty-two years.

Both received an additional eight years in prison when the verdict was handed down on Tuesday. The co-founder of the PSNC in Cambodia, Kem Sokha, has still been tried separately since 2017 in the context of a trial for treason – allegedly for the benefit of the United States – which was interrupted for two years due to Covid-19. It was in this context of systematic persecution of the opposition that the CPP handily won the local elections on June 5 in front of a resuscitated but still anemic opposition, embodied by the Candlelight Party.