Cambodia's opposition leader Kem Sokha jailed for 27 years on treason charges

Cambodian opposition leader politician Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years on house arrest Friday. Photo by Kith Serey/EPA-EFE
Cambodian opposition leader politician Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years on house arrest Friday. Photo by Kith Serey/EPA-EFE

March 3 (UPI) -- Cambodian opposition politician Kem Sokha was ordered to serve 27 years of detainment for treason on Friday, drawing international condemnation.

The former leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party was found guilty of conspiring with the United States to oust Hun Sen, the prime minister and president of the ruling Cambodia People's Party. He was ordered to spend 27 years on house arrest.


Sokha, who denies the charges, was also banned from running for office and voting in elections.

"It is not right, unfair and can't be accepted," Ang Oudom, one of Sokha's lawyers said after the sentencing.

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Oudom said his client would appeal but suggested the ruling was politically motivated.

"It is a political case and only politicians can decide," he said.

International observers condemned the sentencing as an outrageous attempt by Sen, to silence dissent ahead of elections in July.


U.S. ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy said the conviction was a miscarriage of justice, the culmination of a "multi-year process to silence" Sokha based on a "fabricated conspiracy."

"Denying Kem Sokha and other political figures their freedom of expression and association undermines Cambodia's constitution, international commitments, and past progress to develop as a pluralist and inclusive society," Murphy said.

"We call on authorities to allow all Cambodians to enjoy their universal human rights of peaceful assembly and free expression and to participate in building a truly democratic system."

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Human Rights Watch, which said Sokha had been subject to arbitrary detention, mistreatment in custody and a ban on participating in any political activity, called on Cambodian authorities to quash what it called Sokha's "politically motivated conviction" and immediately and unconditionally release him.

"It was obvious from the start that the charges against Kem Sokha were nothing but a politically motivated ploy by Prime Minister Hun Sen to sideline Cambodia's major opposition leader and eliminate the country's democratic system," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"Sending Kem Sokha to prison isn't just about destroying his political party, but about squashing any hope that there can be a genuine general election in July."


Calling for the "fabricated charges" to be dropped and the immediate and unconditional release of Sokha, Amnesty International said the Cambodian justice system had once again shown its "jaw-dropping lack of independence by convicting Kem Sokha on baseless, politically motivated charges."

"This verdict is an unmistakable warning to opposition groups months before national elections. The use of the courts to hound opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen knows no limits."

The group said Sokha was one of many opposition figures who has been put through physically and psychologically taxing ordeals, a situation that would continue after Friday'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," it said.

The CNRP was dissolved by the country's Supreme Court in 2017 two months after Sokha's arrest, following accusations that the party was plotting to overthrow the government ahead of elections the following year.

Sen's CPP won all 125 seats turning Cambodia at a sweep into a one-party state.

At least 39 opposition politicians are held in Cambodian prisons, according to Amnesty International.

Many more were jailed through the course of last year in mass trials that denied them the right to a fair trial.


Cambodia is already under sanctions from the European Union and the United States for human rights violations and corruption.

In 2020, the EU partially withdrew preferential tariffs on trade granted to Cambodia due to its "serious and systematic violations of human rights principles" while Washington sanctioned two senior Cambodian officials in 2021 for their involvement in serious corruption under its Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

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