The Cambodian authorities must immediately quash politically motivated convictions against 11 opposition party activists handed down today after grossly unfair trials.
A court in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh today sentenced 10 youth activists and one official from the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) to between seven and 20 years in prison on “insurrection” charges.
“This trial lacked the most basic fair trial guarantees, and the convictions of these 11 activists should be overturned immediately,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The proceedings were littered with flaws and the defendants were denied the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
The charges relate to a demonstration in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on July 15, 2014 around Cambodia’s disputed elections, which ended in violent clashes between protesters and “para-police.”
The subsequent arrests of opposition activists took place as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) negotiated with the CNRP to reach a political agreement to end the year-long dispute over the outcome of National Assembly elections in July 2013.
A number of those convicted today have been involved in recent CNRP activities to raise awareness of what they allege are efforts by Vietnam to encroach on Cambodian territory.
“It seems that Cambodia’s court system has once again been used for political ends and to silence dissent – the convictions of leading or participating in ‘an insurrection’ appear particularly far-fetched,” said Rupert Abbott.
“Today’s convictions, which follow hot on the heels of the government’s repressive new NGO law, should be a wakeup call for the international community. Old habits die hard it seems and the ‘culture of dialogue’ appears dead in the water.”
Amnesty International is calling for the convictions to be overturned and for the 11 activists to be released, unless they are charged with internationally recognizable offences and tried in fair proceedings which meet Cambodia’s human rights obligations, and remanded by an independent court.
The proceedings against the 11 activists raised a number of fair trial concerns. The court unnecessarily decided to fast track the case, which resulted in defense lawyers boycotting proceedings. Consequently, at this morning’s hearing, only one of the defendants’ lawyers was present. Judges unexpectedly called for closing arguments, denied the defendants’ request for a delay until their lawyers could attend, and deliberated for just 15 minutes before returning with the verdicts and sentences. No evidence was presented during the trial to support the charges, which are based on a law that is overbroad and open to abuse.