Mass trials in Cambodia’s kangaroo court . . .
On Thursday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began the trial of 121 opposition figures accused of treason. All of them are tied to the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that had been the main challenger to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Only 34 of the defendants showed up, as many live abroad in exile. Legal experts say that the trials appear to be politically motivated, as they lack clear legal grounds and violate due process. There are also doubts that the mass trial on the same dates and by the same judges will produce a fair judgement. The court deferred the proceedings until next year, deciding to hear the cases in January and March.
Hun Sen’s iron grip on power . . .
The country’s longest-serving prime minister Hun Sen came to power in 1985 and consolidated his rule through coups and a series of widely disputed elections. The most recent one in 2018 resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling CPP, which won all the National Assembly seats. Before the election, Hun Sen had disbanded the only viable opposition party and forced its prominent leaders into exile by accusing them of conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow the government. While Hun Sen has actively tried to keep his rivals out of Cambodian politics, he has asserted that his party will be in power for another hundred years and has spoken about a possible dynastic succession. Hun Sen appointed his eldest son Hun Manet to several key positions. However, it is unclear whether all factions within the ruling party will accept this transfer of power.
International community keeping a watchful eye . . .
In recent years, dozens of critics of the Cambodian government, including politicians, environmental activists, and journalists, have been targeted for arrests. Concerns over human rights violations in Cambodia have prompted the European Union to suspend preferential trade access to its market earlier this year, affecting some of Cambodia’s major exports, including garments and footwear. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. lawmakers last week called for tougher action against Hun Sen, including stronger diplomatic engagement and the use of targeted sanctions against politicians responsible for the repression of opposition figures. Observers believe that Cambodia’s strained relations with the West have pushed the country further towards China, an important political, economic, and military ally.
- Al Jazeera: Cambodia puts 121 opposition figures for treason
- The Brussels Times: How Hun Sen killed democracy in Cambodia
- Reuters: Cambodia court defers opposition treason trial to next year