Sentencing of Cambodian Opposition Activist Raises Fears of New Round of Jailings

The jailing of a former provincial official of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party for five years on treason charges for supporting an abortive 2019 plan by CNRP leader Sam Rainsy to return to the country has raised fears that more oppositions will suffer the same fate.

CNRP activist and former Kampot province commune councilor Pen Mom was among more than 100 party members arrested for mobilizing to welcome acting CNRP chief Sam Rainsy’s planned return to Cambodia from self-imposed exile in Paris last November. The return was thwarted when Cambodian authorities barred him from entry.

Pen Mom was arrested in October and charged by the investigating judge of the Kampot provincial with plotting a coup under article 453 of Cambodia’s penal code and ordered to serve pre-trial detention at the provincial prison. She was released on bail a month later when Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the release of 72 political prisoners.

With criminal charges against her still pending, however, she was put on trial Aug. 25 in Kampot Provincial Court, sentenced to five years, and taken away by police in handcuffs, according to rights activists who monitored the trial.

RFA could not reach court spokesman Mann Boreth for comment.

Spokesman Soeung Sengkaruna of the rights group Adhoc said that cases against CNRP activists are political motivated cases aimed at weakening and splitting up the banned opposition party, and he is concerned that more CNRP activists will face the same fate.

“I would like the government or all political leaders including international community to help ease the situation to make sure those activists will be released so they can return home to their families,” he said.

Of the 100 people arrested for allegedly plotting to arrange Sam Rainsy’s return in 2019, 76 were released on bail.

The human rights group Licadho, meanwhile, took aim at the broader crackdown in recent weeks that has ensnared labor activists, teachers and environmentalists.

“We urge the government to end its campaign of fear and repression against peaceful youth and environmental human rights defenders, and ensure the rights of the Cambodian people to peacefully advocate for themselves, their families and their communities are respected,” said a statement issued Wednesday by Licadho and 35 other NGOs.

Cambodia’s  Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after leader Kem Sokha’s arrest, for its role in opposition leader’s alleged scheme. The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Hun Sen’s CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Kem Sokha wrote: “If Cambodians resume doing good deeds, in the future our country and  people will live in peace, security and prosperity.”

 

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