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Cambodian court convicts 14 activists over protests

Australian politician, tried in absentia, is acquitted of incitement for demanding the release of a trade unionist

Cambodian court convicts 14 activists over protests

Prisoners including leaders of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions standing trial for alleged incitement arrive in a truck at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Jan. 15. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 26, 2021 09:45 AM GMT

Updated: October 26, 2021 09:53 AM GMT

A Cambodian court has sentenced 14 youth activists and former supporters of a banned opposition political party to between 20 months and two years in jail after finding them guilty of incitement for calling for a jailed trade unionist to be freed.

However, Phnom Penh Municipal Court acquitted retired Australian politician Hong Lim, who was tried in absentia, from the Victorian Legislative Assembly on the same charges.

Hong Lim said from his home in Melbourne that he was relieved with the not-guilty verdict but added: “I don’t know how the others, all young people, will cope. They will be released next month but they have been in jail for more than a year.”

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He was banned from entering Cambodia in 2016 after criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen following the murder of Kem Ley, a close friend and prominent broadcaster who was shot dead at a Phnom Penh petrol station while drinking coffee.

A court charge sheet showed four activists from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) — Seng Meng Bunrong, Ho Vann, Ou Chanrith and Kong Saphea — were also charged in absentia and sentenced to two years behind bars and fined US$1,000.

The remaining 10, all living in Cambodia, were jailed for 20 months but will be released on a two-year probation period and fined $1,000 with sentence reductions for time already served.

Rong Chhun, also a prominent human rights activist, served on the CNRP national election committee, which was dissolved by the courts in 2017

“A thousand dollars is a lot of money for these people,” Hong Lim said.

A report from Voice of Democracy said the 10 were also banned from contacting CNRP officials who instigated protests in August last year and would have to report to the prosecutor if they changed their address, job or wanted to go abroad.

The latest charges were laid in August last year after protests demanding the release of Rong Chhun, president of the independent Cambodian Confederation of Unions, who was detained after he made sensitive comments in regards to this country’s border with Vietnam. Two months ago he was jailed for two years.

Rong Chhun, also a prominent human rights activist, served on the CNRP national election committee, which was dissolved by the courts in 2017.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) then won every seat contested at general elections in 2018 when Cambodia emerged as a one-party state for the first time since UN-backed elections in 1993.

Many CNRP activists then fled abroad. However, the crackdown widened further this year after CNRP leader-in-exile Sam Rainsy threatened to return to Cambodia and stage a popular uprising aimed at ousting Hun Sen. At least another 100 people have been detained.

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