Cambodia: resumption of the mass trial of 150 opponents

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Phnom Penh | The trial of 150 Cambodian opponents resumed Thursday in Phnom Penh, despite criticism from human rights organizations who denounce a flawed and politically motivated procedure.

Many of the defendants are linked to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (PSNC), which broke through in the 2013 general election, winning 55 out of 123 seats, but this movement was dissolved a few years later by the country’s Supreme Court.

And the party of Prime Minister Hun Sen won all seats in Parliament at the end of the legislative elections of 2018, results strongly contested. Hun Sen has now been the head of the country for 36 years and muzzles any opposition.

The closed-door trial, which opened in November and resumed Thursday, is linked to failed attempts by PSNC co-founder Sam Rainsy, in exile in France to escape prison, to return to Cambodia in 2019. Many defendants are being prosecuted for sharing messages on social networks supporting his desire to return to the country.

Some face up to 30 years in prison. Some will be judged in their absence, having fled the kingdom for fear of being arrested.

A handful of their supporters had gathered on the outskirts of the palace, but they were expelled by the police.

Hun Sen “will not intimidate me with these accusations, I will face them as much as they are false”, noted on her arrival in court Theary Seng, an American-Cambodian human rights activist, accused of “treason ”And“ incitement to hatred ”.

Hearings are scheduled to continue in January and March.

“These mass trials are an affront to international standards for fair trials, Cambodia’s commitments to human rights and the rule of law,” lamented an Amnesty International spokesperson, denouncing “a campaign relentless persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition and other dissenting voices ”.

According to the NGO, opposition deputies, currently in exile, have been refused entry into the country to defend themselves from the accusations against them.

The other co-founder of the PSNC Kem Sokha is also targeted by a procedure for “treason”, accused of having wanted to overthrow the government. Placed in pre-trial detention and then placed under house arrest, he has since been released but cannot leave the country.

Hearings for his trial, which opened in January 2020, have been postponed due to the coronavirus. Using the pandemic as an excuse is “a violation of my client’s rights,” Chan Chen, one of his lawyers, told AFP, who is going to file a new petition asking for the trial to be resumed.

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