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Jailed Khmer Bible editor goes on hunger strike

Trials of opposition CNRP supporters to resume as country hosts regional summits
Cambodian-US human rights advocate Theary Seng, dressed as Lady Liberty, is arrested by police after being found guilty of treason in her trial in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 14

Cambodian-US human rights advocate Theary Seng, dressed as Lady Liberty, is arrested by police after being found guilty of treason in her trial in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 14. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 07, 2022 05:03 AM GMT

Prominent Christian activist Theary Seng has gone on a hunger strike at Preah Vihear prison in Cambodia’s remote north to protest her incarceration and highlight Cambodia’s human rights record as United States President Joe Biden arrives for this year’s ASEAN leaders’ summit.

Theary Seng, an American-Khmer lawyer, who was jailed for six years in June for plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government, began her strike on Nov. 7 with the backing of the Khmer Thavrak youth group.

“The hunger strike, consisting of only water, shall take place November 7-14 to welcome President Biden's visit to Hun Sen's Cambodia,” said a family source, who declined to be named.

“According to Human Rights Watch, Hun Sen has maintained his position through ‘politically motivated violence, control of security forces, manipulated elections, massive corruption, and the tacit support of foreign powers’,” he said.

“It is Theary's hope to raise awareness of the regime's impunity"

Biden will visit Cambodia for the mid-November ASEAN leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh alongside some 25 heads of state and sovereign delegations. More than 12,000 security personnel will be deployed for the summit.

“It is Theary's hope to raise awareness of the regime's impunity and disregard for the Cambodian people's desire for freedom, democracy and human rights,” the source said, adding “she is in good spirits and more resolved in her purpose.”

Supporters of Theary Seng, who is also an editor of the Khmer-language Bible, have campaigned for her release since she was jailed along with 139 supporters for plotting to overthrow Hun Sen’s government.

She was a prominent supporter of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its leader in exile Sam Rainsy.

Chhoeun Daravy, a member of the Khmer Thavrak, told the pro-government Khmer Times that six members of the youth group will also start a week-long fasting campaign.

“We are all concerned about the health and safety of Seng Chan Theary after she has been so far detained for 152 days in prison,” she said.

"Hundreds of CNRP supporters have been detained and have faced charges"

“We expect that our hunger strike will move the hearts of the government leaders or authorities, especially the court officers, for their wrongdoing,” Chhoeun Daravy said, adding Cambodians are entitled to freedom of expression and justice.

Hundreds of CNRP supporters have been detained and have faced charges ranging from incitement to treason in recent years with many jailed amid an outcry by human rights groups.

The hunger strike was announced as lawyers for five people from the human rights group Adhoc urged the Supreme Court on Nov 4 to overturn their clients' convictions for bribing a witness because a woman who they were accused of bribing never testified in court.

And in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, a police official defended investigations leading to 37 people eventually being charged in relation to an attempt by Mu Sochua, a senior figure with the CNRP, to return to Cambodia early last year.

Pech Sotharath, deputy director of the National Police’s department of anti-terrorism, said the investigation began with 10 senior CNRP officials who had posted online messages to incite anger with the government.

According to Voice of Democracy, the court was told this had led to the initial charges.

“This group still holds it in their mind to overthrow the government,” Pech Sotharath said.

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