Cambodia's exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy, who leads the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), speaks in Kuala Lumpur in November 2019. Seven Cambodian activists have been handed jail sentences for treason over comments posted online supporting Sam Rainsy. (Photo: AFP)
A Cambodian court has jailed seven political activists from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) for up to seven years after they were convicted of treason.
A CNRP spokesman said five were sentenced to seven years behind bars, while the other two — who have since joined the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) — each received a five-year suspended sentence.
Of the five sentenced to seven years, one was arrested on Sept. 6, while the other four were convicted in absentia, he said. Three had fled overseas and one is in hiding inside Cambodia.
“We cannot accept the verdict,” their lawyer Sam Sokong told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
He described the verdict as “unjust” as his clients had not committed any crimes and said the judge had convicted one activist who had just given birth.
“The woman is weak — she just gave birth to a baby and she is poor,” he said
The seven were convicted under Article 453 of Cambodia’s Penal Code after posting comments on Facebook between 2018 and 2019 supporting a bid by acting CNRP chief Sam Rainsy to return from self-imposed exile in France.
That attempt failed after neighboring countries denied Sam Rainsy entry but he has recently said he would again try to return to Cambodia. However, he did not say when.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha remains under house arrest in Phnom Penh, where he is also facing treason charges.
The CNRP was banned from contesting the 2018 election, which resulted in the CPP winning every seat in the National Assembly, sparking an outcry among Western nations, including the withdrawal of some trade perks by the European Union.
That and the Covid-19 pandemic have hit the Cambodian economy hard but protests since the last election have been rare amid a broad crackdown on dissent. However, about 100 supporters did protest the sentencing outside the court on Sept. 22.
One of those convicted, Mean La, remains in hiding but told RFA that the charges against her were “groundless” and “politically motivated and not at all about implementation of the law.”
She said she was detained in late 2019 when two months pregnant but later released following an intervention by Prime Minister Hun Sen. She then fled the country.
“It is very unjust for the court to sentence me to seven years in jail because I was never involved in treason,” she said.
Their convictions follow a recent spate of arrests for incitement. This included rappers who posted songs which offended some in authority.