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Cambodia Condemns Prolonged Detention of Opposition Leader

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Cambodia’s leading opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was sentenced to 27 years in prison on Friday in a case widely criticized as a flagrant miscarriage of justice.

Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 in a midnight attack involving hundreds of security forces, and accused of masterminding a “secret plan” in collusion with foreign entities to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The 69-year-old co-founder of the dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) has long been a high-profile opponent of Hun Sen, who critics say has damaged democratic freedoms and used the courts to stifle dissent.

Kem Sokha has repeatedly denied the charges against him, which rights groups say are aimed at barring him from politics ahead of July elections.

Immediately after the verdict was issued in the Phnom Penh court, he was placed under house arrest and prevented from meeting foreigners and anyone who is not a member of his family without the permission of the court.

and criticized. Patrick Murphy, the US ambassador who was present at the court, described the trial and sentence as a “miscarriage of justice”.

“The United States is deeply troubled by the indictment of respected political leader Kem Sokha,” he told reporters.

Last August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Kim Sokha during a visit to Phnom Penh, where he raised concerns about the kingdom’s faltering democracy in talks with Hun Sen.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said the ruling showed that “autocrats have won” in Cambodia.

“This Cambodian democracy has hit rock bottom,” he said.

When Kem Sokha was led away from the court, he smiled and greeted the diplomats present at the court.

“I cannot accept this verdict. It is unfair to him and his people. He is not guilty, this is political pressure,” his supporter, Shea Samun, said outside the court where there was a heavy security presence.

Kem Sokha has one month to appeal the conviction and prison sentence.

The court also stripped him of his right to vote and prevented him from running for political office.

Crush any hope

Two months after Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodian People’s Party, once considered the only viable opponent of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

This paved the way for the CPP and Hun Sen to gain 125 parliamentary seats in 2018, making the country a one-party state.

Dozens of opposition figures were convicted of treason last year, some in absentia, in the latest pressure on opponents ahead of the election.

Last month, Hun Sen ordered the closure of one of the country’s few remaining independent domestic media outlets after a row with a news report on his son.

Chuck Sophep, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Kim Sohka’s trial showed “the frightening problem of state control of the judiciary”. She said that “sending Kem Sokha to jail is not just about destroying his political party, it is about crushing any hope that a real general election can be held in July.”

Amnesty International said the use of the courts to hunt down Hun Sen’s opponents “has no bounds”.

“The Cambodian justice system has once again demonstrated its stunning lack of independence,” said Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director Ming Yu Hah.

Exiled dissident Sam Rainsy – who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail over a number of convictions he says are politically motivated – said the trial was based on “fabricated accusations”.

“I salute Kim Sokha’s courage and dignity,” he added.

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