PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) -- Tuesday's trial saw a number of Cambodian American lawyers and members of a disbanded opposition party convicted of treason. This was the latest attempt to subdue any opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen's long-running rule.
Lawyer Theary Seng, along with most of the others, were charged in connection to a failed attempt by Sam Rainsy's leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (now defunct) to return from exile in 2019. The Cambodian authorities prevented Sam Rainsy from returning home and claimed that 60 of the defendants had been involved in the organization of his trip. This Theary Seng and others deny.
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The influence of Hun Sen is widely believed to have been in Cambodian courts. His authoritarian style has kept him in power since 1977. Before Hun Sen's 2018 election victory, the Cambodia National Rescue Party was his main rival. A court ruling disbanded it just before national elections.
Defense lawyer Choung Chou Ny stated that Theary Seng was found guilty by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court along with most of the other defendants of conspiring to commit treason. Theary Seng was sentenced for six years, while the other defendants were sentenced to five to eight years.
Many of the 60 defendants fled to exile or went into hiding before the trial. It wasn't immediately known how many were present in court on Tuesday.
Theary Seng was seen standing outside the courtroom as the verdict was announced. She stated that she wanted her arrest made public and not in the shadow. Media witnessed at least three police officers approach Theary Sng, grab her body and hand, and then push her into a waiting truck.
In a light green dress and a crown with the words "Freedom" on it, she was dressed up as Lady Liberty. She also shouted "Free the political prisoners!" at times.
She stated to reporters that she was prepared for a "sham", guilty verdict.
She stated that she was ready to travel to the notorious Cambodian prison to express my political views, beliefs, and belief system, as well as to secure my freedom of movement. "I'm willing to pay the price for prison so that I can live my conscience and believe in justice and freedom."
Choung Chou Ngy representing Theary Seng, but not other defendants, stated that he will file an appeal. He stated that the sentences of defendants sentenced to five-year terms were suspended. The judge sentenced those sentenced to six to eight years to jail, while those sentenced to between six and eight years to prison were placed on hold. He also ordered that police be sent to locate those who were not sentenced to court.
Hun Sen's party won every seat in the National Assembly by winning the 2018 election. This was thanks to the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and its elimination from the ballot. He has repeatedly declared his intent to remain in office until 2028, and has supported one of his sons for the job.
Sam Rainsy is Hun Sen's principal political foe. He has been living in exile since 2016, to avoid prison sentences for defamation or other charges that he claims are politically motivated.
The trial of Theary Seng and her co-defendants started in 2020, but was halted until December 2021 because coronavirus restrictions. In order to make the proceedings more manageable, almost 130 defendants were initially named. The proceedings were then divided into three trials.