JAKARTA, INDONESIA – Southeast Asian parliamentarians have condemned the recent trial of dozens of members of the political opposition in Cambodia as a sham, and called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community to take strong action to halt Prime Minister Hun Sen’s relentless assault on human rights and democracy.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also called for all charges against the political opposition in the country to be dropped, and for all those currently detained to be released unconditionally.
Last week, Cambodia’s government started its latest mass trial targeting mainly members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), with 37 defendants summoned to a Phnom Penh court for the hearing.
According to media reports, only three defendants were physically present, with the rest either in hiding or in exile.
“No-one should be fooled by Hun Sen’s latest charade that the courts in Cambodia stand for anything other than a weapon in his unrelenting campaign to snuff out the country’s political opposition. Instead of using the courts to silence critical voices, Hun Sen should drop all charges against the political opposition and create a space for genuine opposition parties to run in a general election next year that is free and fair,” said Kasit Piromya, former Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs and APHR Board Member.
The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit treason and could face prison sentences of between five and 10 years.
The allegations are related to a failed attempt by former CNRP Vice-President and current APHR Board Member, Mu Sochua, to return to Cambodia from self-exile in January 2021 to face charges in a separate politically-motivated trial. Mu Sochua, who has already been sentenced to 36 years, is among the figures summoned for the latest round of charges.
She has made it clear she plans to return to Cambodia to face the charges against her, but has been prevented from entering the country.
Among those also facing charges is Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American human rights defender who is currently being detained in Preah Vihear Prison, in northern Cambodia. In a recent report, the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Initiative and the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights described the trial against her as “a travesty of justice” and gave the trial’s procedure an “F” grade, meaning a trial “entailed a gross violation of international standards that affected the outcome and/or resulted in significant harm.”
The report also detailed “due process violations” committed against Theary, including her right to be informed of the charges against her, her right to counsel and adequate facilities to prepare a defense, her presumption of innocence, her right to be tried before and independent and impartial tribunal, and her post-conviction right to counsel.
The situation related to human rights and democracy has drastically deteriorated in Cambodia in recent years, notably since Hun Sen used the country’s courts to dissolve the CNRP in 2017, shortly after it had run his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) close in successive nationwide elections.
As a result of the dissolution, the CPP now holds all 125 seats in the National Assembly, which it has used to push through increasingly repressive laws, as well as proposed changes to the constitution that would pave the way for Hun Sen to transfer power to his son.
“Hun Sen is clearly of the view that he can continue abusing his power with absolute impunity, and the international community, including ASEAN, should send a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated – at the very least they must not legitimise any elections that take place under the current conditions,” said Piromya.
He added, “The deeper Hun Sen entrenches his rule, the harder it will be to return the country to democracy. International actors must take action now, and do everything in their power – including targeted sanctions, diplomatic maneuvering and support for civil society – to get the country back on the democratic path,”