PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) -- Tuesday's verdict in a trial for treason by a Cambodian American lawyer and dozens more members of a now-dissolved opposition group awaited. This was the latest attempt to subdue all opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen's long-running rule.
Lawyer Theary Seng, along with most of the others, were charged in connection to a failed attempt by Sam Rainsy's leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (now defunct) to return from exile in 2019. The Cambodian authorities prevented Sam Rainsy from returning home and claimed that 60 of the defendants had been involved in the organization of his trip. This Theary Seng and others deny.
The influence of Hun Sen is widely believed to have been in Cambodian courts. His authoritarian style has kept him in power since 1977. Before Hun Sen's 2018 election victory, the Cambodia National Rescue Party was his main rival. A court ruling disbanded it just before national elections.
Theary Seng was charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with conspiracy to commit Treason and incitement for a felony. Together they were sentenced to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment.
Many of the 60 defendants fled to exile or went into hiding. It wasn't immediately known how many showed up in court Tuesday to hear the verdict.
Theary Seng was dressed as Lady Liberty and arrived at the court building in a light green gown with a crown that had "Freedom" written on. To make it clear that she believes Cambodia is not democratic, Theary Seng has worn themes costumes like Lady Justice to court sessions.
She raised her imitation torch occasionally and shouted, "Free the political prisoners!"
Outside court, she told reporters that she was ready to accept a "shameful" guilty verdict.
She stated that she was ready to travel to the notorious Cambodian prison to express my political views, beliefs, and belief system, as well as to secure my freedom of movement. "I am willing to pay the price for prison so that I can live my conscience and believe in justice and freedom."
She stated that she would not go into the courtroom and wanted her arrest to take place in open. She said, "I want them do it, but not in the shadows, but publicly."
Hun Sen's party won every seat in the National Assembly by winning the 2018 election. This was thanks to the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and its elimination from the ballot. He has repeatedly declared his intent to remain in office until 2028, and has supported one of his sons for the job.
Sam Rainsy is Hun Sen's principal political foe. He has been living in exile since 2016, to avoid prison sentences for defamation or other charges that he claims are politically motivated.
The trial of Theary Seng and her co-defendants started in 2020, but was halted until December 2021 because coronavirus restrictions. In order to make the proceedings more manageable, almost 130 defendants were initially named. The proceeding was then divided into three trials.
A related case was also heard in March. 21 people were convicted of treason for peaceful opposition to the government of Cambodia. Sam Rainsy and seven other exile leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party were sentenced to 10-years in absentia. The court also sentenced 13 other defendants as ordinary party supporters who were to be held for a total of three years.