Cambodian Government Reopens Mass Trial Against Critics

The Cambodian government has resumed Tuesday its mass trial of critics and opponents charged with treason for their nonviolent political activities.

Defense lawyer Sam Sokong said only six out of 44 defendants summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court turned up.

Among the defendants was Cambodian-American lawyer Theary Seng who attended the hearing wearing a Cambodian classical Apsara dancer costume. 

“This is political theater, and unlike the other actors, I have my own role, I write my own role,” Theary Seng said.

Theary Seng said her traditional outfit cast her as a “wounded Apsara” dancer that could represent “the Cambodian population suffering under this autocratic regime.”

According to defense lawyers and rights activists, almost all defendants have been charged, with conspiracy to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony, with a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison. 

Sam Sokong added that most defendants were accused of being supporters of the disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and also accused of organizing a failed trip home of CNRP’s self-exiled head and co-founder Sam Rainsy. 

Sam Sokong also said the defendants testified not knowing any plans for Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia, which authorities blocked in November 2019.

The mass trial was believed to be an action taken to keep Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in office. 

Hun Sen has been in power for 36 years and says he intends to stay in office until 2028. 

Last week, Hun Sen endorsed one of his sons to succeed him.

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