Cambodia: 150 opposition politicians and supporters face jail in mass trials

Ahead of a series of mass trials of approximately 150 individuals affiliated with the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said:

“These mass trials are an affront to international fair trial standards, Cambodia’s human rights commitments and the rule of law.

“This onslaught of cases is the culmination of a relentless campaign of persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition and other dissenting voices.

This onslaught of cases is the culmination of a relentless campaign of persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition.
Yamini Mishra, Asia-Pacific Regional Director

“Recent history in Cambodia suggests that those accused have faint hopes of a fair trial. When it comes to cases against opposition activists and government critics, political motivations consistently outweigh facts and law.

"The fact that opposition politicians have been denied entry into Cambodia to defend the accusations against them reveals these cynical show trials for what they are. All those imprisoned on politically motivated grounds in Cambodia should be released immediately and unconditionally, and all politically motivated charges should be dropped without delay.

“Everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, has the right to engage in public affairs, to associate with others, and to peacefully assemble. Cambodia must end its relentless repression of peaceful dissent and ensure a diversity of voices in the public sphere.”

Background

According to information received by Amnesty International, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court will hold trial hearings in six politically motivated cases involving approximately 150 CNRP-affiliated defendants across four dates: 14 January, 22 January, 29 January and 4 March. The defendants comprise politicians, activists and supporters of the CNRP including senior party leaders such as Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ho Vann and Eng Chhai Eang. Several CNRP politicians are accused in more than one of these cases.

The charges vary in each case and include “plotting”, “incitement to commit a felony”, “inciting military personnel to disobedience” and “criminal attempt” under Articles 453, 494, 495 ,471, and 451 of the Criminal Code, respectively. Many of the charges relate to the planned return of self-exiled CNRP leaders to Cambodia in November 2019. “Criminal attempt” is punishable by up to 30 years’ imprisonment.

Since 2017, the CNRP has faced politically-motivated accusations that it colluded with the United States government to foment a so-called “colour revolution”, characterized as a coup d’état by the Cambodian authorities. This accusation formed the basis of the arbitrary dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court in November 2017, which Amnesty International called a “blatant act of political repression” and a serious violation of freedom of association.

Hundreds of CNRP activists and supporters have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, and have faced politically motivated criminal charges since then. Many CNRP activists have been physically attacked and injured by unknown assailants during this period, with no credible investigations into the attacks taking place to date.

On 8 January, a Cambodian government spokesperson told Radio Free Asia that authorities would not grant travel documents for CNRP politicians living abroad who planned to return to Cambodia to face the charges against them.

Cambodia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of association under Article 22 and the right to participate in public affairs under Article 25.