Eight other members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, including his wife, also sentenced - again in absentia. Defendants deprived of civil rights will not be able to participate in elections in 2022 and 2023. Activists and experts speak of a politically motivated ruling. The dissolved party announces a battle.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Cambodian court has sentenced Sam Rainsy in absentia to 25 years in prison. The opposition leader (in exile in Paris) and head of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was accused of "attempted coup".
Eight other prominent opposition personalities were also sentenced, again in absentia to terms of between 20 and 22 years in prison; moreover, they will no longer be able to stand as candidates in future elections because they are banned from the active political life of the nation.
They have been charged with an attempted "coup d'état" engineered in 2019, on the occasion of his failure to return home from his Parisian exile. The other eight people sentenced are Rainsy Tioulong Saumura's wife, Eng Chhai Eang, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Long Ry, Nuth Romdoul, Ho Vann and Men Sothavarin.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Sam Rainsy called the decision a “political verdict issued by [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s puppet court.” “Our lawyers will study the sentence, but we don’t care much about it because we know it is based on a ruse,” he said. “We are focusing on continuing to fight for democracy. Once we bring democracy back to Cambodia, it will be the end of the [puppet] court and the dictatorship.”
In recent years, at least 150 members of the disbanded CNRP have been brought to trial for "treason" or "incitement" to revolt, most of them for publicly expressing support for Rainsy's return. In a note, the party's representatives "strongly deny" all the accusations against the leaders and "firmly reject" the ruling of the Court, highlighting a series of violations to procedures, to the rights of the accused and to a fair trial.
Rainsy has lived in voluntary exile in Paris since 2015, to escape a series of charges he claims are politically motivated. In August 2019, the politician announced that he would return to his homeland together with senior members of the CNRP on November 9, the day of the 66th anniversary of Cambodian independence from France, to lead the "restoration of democracy" in the country. For decades the country has been ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen. However, he was stranded at the airport prior to departure.
Analysts and activists brand the condemnation of Rainsy and the other eight opposition leaders as "politically motivated". Seng Sary explains that the verdict is only a means of preventing the defendants from participating in the next administrative and political elections in 2022 and 2023.
" “Strategically, it is a threat to scare other CNRP politicians [into leaving the CNRP] and make them ask [the government] for political rehabilitation so they can create new political parties to participate in the 2022 and 2023 elections,” he said.
In a statement, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, called the sentences “outrageously harsh” and suggested they were part of a bid to “slam the door shut on these exiles ever returning to Cambodia.”