Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha sentenced to 27 years
by Steve Suwannarat

Accused of conspiring with foreign forces, for the chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, he was convicted in “An act of sheer vindictiveness by the Hun Sen regime.” The upcoming Cambodian elections in July, the first without any opposition, will not be “fair and free”.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Opposition leader Kem Sokha, a long-time activist and founder of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was sentenced to 27 years of house arrest for "treason."

This is “An act of sheer vindictiveness by the Hun Sen regime and has nothing whatsoever to do with justice,” lamented Mercy Barends, chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights,

Specifically, Kem is accused of conspiring with foreign forces (i.e. the United States) for subversive purposes.

Under the terms of his conviction, Kem’s ban from political involvement will exclude him from next July’s elections, the first without a parliamentary opposition to the ruling Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Reacting to the sentence, US Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, who was at the court, said that, “The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction of respected political leader Kem Sokha.”

Last August, during a visit to Cambodia, US Secretary of State Antony Bliken met with Kem Sokha and made US concerns clear to Hun Sen.

Likewise, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said he was stunned by the verdict. “[C]oncerned by the basis of the charges and the conduct of his trial,” he called for the prisoner’s immediate release and respect for his rights, including the right to a fair trial and full participation in political life.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said the judge’s decision shows that “authoritarians have won" in Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is nominally subordinate to King Norodom Sihamoni, but with the removal of his last rival, who remained in the country to resist his excessive power, he caps 40 years in power during which he has squashed all political and social opposition, ignored international pressure, and used bribes, colluded and often intimidated to bend parliament and the judiciary to his will.

Case in point: The judge who ruled in Kem’s case is a member of Hun Sen's party as were the judges involved in cases involving members of other parties.

Hence, “Nobody should be fooled into believing that, in the current conditions, a fair and free election is possible in Cambodia,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chief Mercy Barends.

She goes on to warn that, “With so many opposition figures in jail or in exile, and the continuing harassment of the opposition, the polls will only be a farce designed by Hun Sen and his party to legitimize their power. The international community should not fall for such a charade.”