Cambodian American lawyer and human rights activist Theary Seng was among the 60 opposition figures convicted for conspiring to commit treason by a local court in Cambodia.
Seng and her co-defendants, who were affiliated with the dissolved group Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), were sentenced to between five to eight years in prison on Tuesday.
They were charged with treason and incitement for efforts by the group to return their leader, Sam Rainsy, from exile in 2019.
Rainsy’s return was prevented by Cambodian authorities, who accused the 60 defendants of helping organize the trip. Currently living in exile in France, Rainsy was also sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison.
Seng, who arrived at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court dressed as the Statue of Liberty, said prior to the trial that she was already expecting a guilty verdict.
“It follows the logic of this autocratic regime to find me guilty,” she was quoted as saying.
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Seng’s lawyer Chuong Choungy told reporters that the court has ordered the arrest of her client, who is now facing a six-year prison sentence.
“This is not acceptable and I will meet her in prison to discuss appealing,” the lawyer said.
A video shows two police officers arresting Seng by grabbing her and dragging her into a waiting truck.
The mass trial, which the U.S. accused of being politically motivated, is seen as a means to curb opposition against the rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Local and international critics have long accused Sen of silencing those who oppose his rule. Ny Sokha of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association told Radio Free Asia that former CNRP officials who agreed to defect to Sen’s party either had their sentences suspended or their charges dropped.
“The court’s decision is more about politics rather than the law,” he was quoted as saying. “If the culture of the dialogue still existed, no one would have been prosecuted. The problem stemmed from political conflict.”
U.S. embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier told Reuters that the U.S. government has repeatedly urged Cambodian authorities to “stop politically motivated trials, including against U.S. citizen Seng Theary and other human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, journalists, and labor and environmental activists.”
Sen has been Cambodia’s incumbent prime minister since 1985, making him the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.
While Sen’s government has denied persecuting his political opponents, the opposition party was banned and its leader Kem Sokha was arrested in 2018 before the general election. This resulted in Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party winning every parliamentary seat without contest.