Cambodian protesters jailed for ‘insurrection’

11 opposition party activists sentenced up to 20 years over protest against arbitrary ban on demonstrations

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

A Cambodian court has sentenced eleven opposition party activists to prison on insurrection charges in a trial that has been condemned by rights groups.

Three of them were sentenced to 20 years in jail “for leading an insurrection”, according to local media reports, while eight activists are to be jailed for seven-years.

Opposition activists were accused of taking part in protests and clashes on July 2014, over the closure of Freedom Park in the capital of Phnom Pehn, the city’s only officially designated protest site.

The decision to ban demonstrations in the park prompted protests by members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), including four lawmakers from the party, who clashed with police and were arrested.

"This is a very serious sentencing. We lawyers cannot accept these convictions," Sam Sokong, one of the lawyers told AFP.

Meach Sovannara, one of the activists who was sentenced to 20 years on Tuesday, said through his Facebook page that "he had enough evidence to prove his innocence, and the judgment was a human rights violation," Anadolu Agency (AA) reported.

Only one defense lawyer attended the last trial as others boycotted the "fast-track" process.

Cambodian rights group Licadho claimed the trial had unexpectedly came to an end without providing enough time for lawyers to prepare their closing arguments.

Condemning the conviction, Licadho director Naly Pilorge told AA that police had entered the courtroom during the trial, clearly showing that it was "a trial with a predetermined ending, apparently set up only to intimidate the CNRP."

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) also criticised the trial describing it as "part of a campaign of intimidation by Cambodia’s long-serving prime minister, Hun Sen."

“It is beyond absurd to call a political protest by a small unarmed group an ‘insurrection,’ but this is the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world over which Hun Sen presides,” the group’s Asia director Brad Adams was quoted as saying in a statement on HRW's website.

“The government is clearly not responding to the July 15 violence, but rather searching for ways to weaken the political opposition,” he said.

Last week the Cambodian parliament passed a controversial law making changes to the regulation of more than 5,000 local and international non-governmental organisations (NGO) in the country.

According to the new legislation, NGOs in Cambodia must report all their financial and social activities to the government. Moreover, NGOs must not “jeopardise peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, and traditions of Cambodian society."

The new law is seen as the latest attempt to silence criticism by Hun Sen, who is slammed by rights groups over the suppression of street protests.

TRTWorld and agencies