Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha has been sentenced to 27 years under house arrest after being found guilty of treason, ending a three-year trial drawn out by COVID-19 and delays to allow government lawyers to find new evidence of the politician’s alleged crimes.
Kem Sokha was the joint founder of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party and has long been a foe of Hun Sen — Asia’s longest-serving leader.
“Kem Sokh is sentenced to 27 years in prison on the charge of collusion with foreigners committed in Cambodia and other places,” Judge KoCambodia opposition leader Kem Sokha sentenced 27 years for treasonCambodia opposition leader Kem Sokha sentenced 27 years for treasonCambodia opposition leader Kem Sokha sentenced 27 years for treasone court in Phnom Penh.
Immediately after the verdict, the 69-year-old was placed under house arrest, where he will be banned from meeting anyone who is not a family member.
He has one month to appeal the conviction and jail sentence, Ang Udom, a lawyer for Kem Sokha told reporters.
The court also stripped him of his right to vote and barred him from running for political office.
Arrested in 2017 in a midnight swoop involving hundreds of security forces, Kem Sokha was accused of hatching a “secret plan” in collusion with foreign entities to topple the government of longtime ruler Hun Sen.
He has repeatedly denied the charges against him.
Critics say Hun Sen has wound back democratic freedoms and used the courts to stifle opponents, jailing scores of opposition activists and human rights defenders.
“I cannot accept this ruling,” Kem Sokha supporter Chea Samuon told AFP outside the courtroom.
“It is very unjust for him and the people. He is not guilty, this is political pressure.”
US Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy, who was at the court, slammed the trial and sentence as a “miscarriage of justice.”
Last August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Kem Sokha during a visit to Phnom Penh, where he also raised concerns about the kingdom’s ailing democracy in talks with Hun Sen.
The next general election takes place later this year.
“This verdict is an unmistakable warning to opposition groups months before national elections,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director Ming Yu Hah said in a statement. “The use of the courts to hound opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen knows no limits.
“Sokha is one of many opposition figures who has been put through a physically and psychologically taxing ordeal which will continue after today’s unjust verdict. There can be no right to a fair trial when the courts have been co-opted by the heavy hand of the government.”