Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia expressed alarm over recent court decisions convicting dozens of members and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said in a statement on Thursday, June 16, that the conviction of opposition leaders and activists should “raise alarm within ASEAN.”
The group called for all the charges to be dropped and for the immediate and unconditional release of those detained.
On June 14, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted more than 50 former members and supporters of the CNRP, which was arbitrarily dissolved in 2017, on charges of treason.
A prominent Cambodian-American lawyer, Theary Seng, was sentenced to six years in prison and immediately arrested after the trial. Others received sentences ranging from five to eight years imprisonment.
Of those convicted, 27 are in exile and were tried in absentia. One of them is Mu Sochua, former CNRP vice president and board member of APHR.
“This is just another episode of a years-long relentless assault by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime against political opponents and democracy itself,” said Charles Santiago, member of parliament in Malaysia and APHR chairman.
He said in a statement that Hun Sen and his government are “de facto turning Cambodia into a one-party state in which nobody is safe except those who obediently accept his increasingly dictatorial rule.”
The verdict against the opposition leaders and activists is part of a series of mass trials that started in November 2020 targeting 138 CNRP members who supported the return to Cambodia of exiled party leader Sam Rainsy.
The government charged them, among other charges, with conspiracy to commit treason alleging that they were planning to overthrow the government through a revolution.
APHR said the trials “have been far from fair” because former CNRP members who defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have their sentences suspended or charges against them dropped.
The sentences come after the recent Commune and Sangkat elections, held on June 5.
“Both ASEAN and the international community at large should do all they can to support democracy in Cambodia and stop Hun Sen from weaponizing the law and the state apparatus for his own interests,” read the APHR statement.
Santiago said “letting a dictator run free has not only consequences on the people of Cambodia but the region as a whole,” adding the Hun Sen’s “reckless and unilateral handling of the Myanmar crisis as the current chair of ASEAN is just one example of it.”