Group including prominent lawyer Theary Seng were tried over opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s abortive 2019 attempt to return home.
Theary Seng, a prominent Cambodian American lawyer, and dozens of members of Cambodia’s banned opposition party have been convicted of treason in a controversial mass trial over a failed attempt by the party leader to return home in 2019.
The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was forcibly dissolved after a strong showing in local elections in 2017 and its coleader, Kem Sohka, was charged with treason. The party members and supporters have since been targeted in a number of mass trials that have left Cambodia a virtual one-party state.
The latest case was related to a plan by Sam Rainsy, another party leader, to return from exile in 2019.
Rainsy’s attempt was blocked by the government, while Theary Seng and most of the other defendants were accused of organizing the trip – charges they denied.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Theary Seng and most of the others guilty of conspiracy to commit treason, defense lawyer Choung Chou Ngy said.
Theary Seng, who arrived at court dressed as ‘Lady Liberty’, was sentenced to six years in jail, and the others received sentences of between five and eight years.
Standing outside the court as the verdict was announced, Theary Seng said she wanted her arrest to be public and “not in the shadow”. Journalists saw at least three police officers approach the lawyer, hold her hand and body, and push her into a waiting police truck shortly after the verdict was delivered.
The dissolution of the CNRP handed over Prime Minister Hun Sen all the seats in the national assembly in the 2018 general election. He has now been in power for 37 years.