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Cambodia gov’t rejects concern over opposition leader’s sentence

Opposition leader Kem Sokha, 69, was sentenced to 27 years on charges of treason and is currently under house arrest.

Cambodia’s government has accused Western countries of political meddling and arrogance after foreign diplomats raised concerns about a 27-year prison sentence imposed on popular opposition leader Kem Sokha following his treason conviction in what was described as a highly politicized trial.

Kem Sokha, the 69-year-old co-founder of the country’s now-banned opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has been found guilty of hatching a secret plan in collusion with foreign entities to assassinate the country’s prime minister, Hun Sen, to overthrow. has ruled Cambodia with an iron fist for almost 40 years.

Kem Sokha had denied the allegations.

The United Nations, the European Union, Canada, France, Australia and the United Kingdom have all expressed concern following Friday’s sentencing, as analysts view Kem Sokha’s treatment as symptomatic of Cambodia’s stifled democracy ahead of the election in July that their ruling Sen party was in power for another five years because of repression of the political opposition.

The US described Friday’s conviction and verdict as a “miscarriage of justice” based on a “fabricated conspiracy” and “politically motivated allegations”.

“The sentencing of Kem Sokha is part of a larger pattern of threats, intimidation and other unacceptable actions by the Cambodian authorities against leaders of the political opposition, the media and civil society,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department. of Foreign Affairs.

“These actions impede any chance of a free, transparent and fair election process,” Price said.

Cambodia’s foreign ministry said in a statement Friday that the conviction was “biased and hypocritical” and denied any political motives.

The ministry accused foreign envoys of a political narrative that may have been based on “deception or arrogance” and said diplomats have a duty not to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs.

Kem Sokha was immediately placed under house arrest on Friday and was not allowed to speak to anyone outside his family. His daughter Kem Monovithya said on Saturday that her parents’ internet and phone had been cut off and surveillance cameras were being installed in front of Kem Sokha’s house in the capital Phnom Penh.

“He is calm and committed to finding justice and hopes to reverse this course,” Monovithya told Agence France-Presse news agency.

She also called on foreign governments to take concrete action against the Cambodian government.

“I call on the international community to respond with action, lip service has not worked,” she said.

Kem Sokha has one month to appeal his sentence.

Human rights groups say Hun Sen — one of the longest-reigning leaders of any country in the world — has systematically crushed Cambodia’s political opposition, eroded democratic freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, and used the country’s courts to force his detractors and critics to to shut up.

Two months after Kem Sokha’s 2017 arrest, the Cambodian Supreme Court dissolved his CNRP, once considered the only viable political opposition to Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), effectively in power since 1979.

The removal of the CNRP from the country’s political life paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling party to win all 125 parliamentary seats in the 2018 national election, which turned Cambodia into a one-party state for the first time since multi-party democracy was restored to the country in the early 1990s after decades of civil war.

Many opposition supporters, activists and politicians have fled the country since 2017, and more than 150 have been convicted of treason and other crimes in mass trials.

Hun Sen recently ordered the closure of one of the country’s few remaining local independent media outlets after taking offense at a report implicating his son and heir to the throne.

The State Department said in its statement that “Cambodia remains steadfast in holding the July general election in a free, fair, just and transparent manner”.