Home Equality & Justice Christian pro-democracy activist sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia

Christian pro-democracy activist sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia

“I am ready and prepared to go to the notorious Cambodian prison for my political opinions, for my beliefs, for my belief in democracy”

A prominent Christian and pro-democracy activist in Cambodia has been sentenced to six years in prison for the charge of treason on Tuesday, June 14.

Theary Seng, a lawyer and activist whose work includes editing the Khmer version of the Bible, said she was “ready for the sham verdict.”

“I am ready and prepared to go to the notorious Cambodian prison for my political opinions, for my beliefs, for my belief in democracy,” she told reporters earlier in the day.

“This regime will not let me go free. It will be an unfair and unjust verdict, because I am innocent, the others charged with me are innocent,” she said.

“But we are living in a dictatorship, we are living in a regime that suppresses and represses its own people, that punishes, that uses the law as a weapon against its own people,” added Theary Seng.

Theary Seng was sentenced to six years in prison, while the more than 50 other activists received sentences ranging from five to eight years.

Among the other activists on trial, 27 were tried in absentia, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

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The treason charges against the activists stem from abortive efforts in 2019 to bring about the return to Cambodia of Cambodian National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile in France to avoid what his supporters say are politicized charges against him.

Following the verdict, authorities obliged Theary Seng’s request for a public arrest — two police officers grabbed her and rushed her into a waiting truck, a video shows.

Chhoeun Daravy, an activist who witnessed the arrest, told RFA the police truck drove her to prison.

“We are deeply troubled by today’s unjust verdicts against Theary Seng and others,” the US Embassy in Cambodia said in a statement posted to Facebook.

“Freedom of expression and association, and tolerance of dissenting views, are vital components of democracy.

“We call on Cambodian authorities to release her and other human rights activists from unjust imprisonment.”

The Cambodian government’s spokesperson, Phay Siphan, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Theary Seng’s courtside demonstration had nothing to do with the verdict, and tried to dispel the idea that her conviction could damage relations with Washington.

“The court’s measures are based on the law,” he said. “Cambodia and the U.S relationship is important … more important than just one person,” Phay Siphan said.

Because Theary Seng is a dual citizen of Cambodia and the United States, the embassy can request that she serve her sentence in the US, Phay Siphan said. He also said she had the option to appeal and could also seek amnesty from Cambodia’s king after serving two-thirds, or four years, of her sentence.

Theary Seng’s lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, told RFA that he will appeal the court’s verdict. Meanwhile, the prison department refused to allow him to see her, which he said violated the law.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called Tuesday’s proceedings a “show trial” and said they “expose the Hun Sen government’s fear of any vestige of democracy in Cambodia.”

“The mass trials against political opposition members are really about preventing any electoral challenge to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule, but they have also come to symbolize the death of Cambodia’s democracy,” Robertson said.

“By creating a political dynamic that relies on intimidation and persecution of government critics, Hun Sen demonstrates his total disregard for democratic rights,” he said.

The convictions draw to a close a trial that began in 2020 but was temporarily stopped until December 2021 due to restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The court case originally involved about 130 defendants but was split into three separate trials. – with a report from Radio Free Asia

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