36 Opposition Members Convicted in Mass Trial Verdict

3 min read
Mu Sochua attempts to fly to Cambodia, in a photo posted to her Facebook page on January 15, 2021.
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UPDATED — Former Cambodia National Rescue Party vice president Mu Sochua and 35 others were convicted by a Phnom Penh court this morning for plotting in a case linked to the exiled opposition leader’s attempted return to the country in 2021.

The court commenced the fifth mass trial since the dissolution of the opposition party in 2017, charging 37 people, including senior party leaders, members and activists, with plotting for allegedly assisting and planning the return of Sochua in January 2021. Sochua was at the time attempting to return to attend another mass trial where she was a defendant.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges said the court had found all but one defendant guilty of the charges. Senior or prominent leaders of the CNRP were given more severe sentences and had their rights to vote or stand for election revoked for five years, whereas other defendants received more lenient sentences. Three defendants were given suspended sentences and one person had the charges against them dropped.

Sam Rainsy7 yearsPhorn Phanna5 years
Mu Sochua7 yearsVann Narith7 years
Eng Chhai Eang7 yearsSor Chandeth5 years
Tioulong Saumura7 yearsSeng Meng Bunrong5 years
Ho Vann7 yearsMatt VannyCharges dropped
Ou Chanrith7 yearsSum Seyha5 years
Men Sothavarin7 yearsChhun Sithy5 years, fully suspended
Long Ry7 yearsPrak Sarom5 years
Mao Vibol5 yearsNgim Nheng5 years, fully suspended
Sot Silat5 yearsVoeung Samnang5 years
Khin Samorn5 yearsLong Botta5 years
Chhun Vean5 yearsLeng Sotheary5 years
Chham Sophorn5 yearsKhan Bunpheng5 years
Khin Chamroeun5 yearsHeng Danaro7 years
Khlaing Bun Lay5 yearsKong Mas5 years
Nuth Rumduol7 yearsAth Vichet5 years
Tor Nimol5 yearsButh Sokunthea Thierry5 years
Hay Vanna5 yearsHeng Sokleng5 years, suspended with time served
Oun Pov5 years
These defendants have lost their right to vote or stand for elections for five years

Only four of the defendants are in the country — three of whom are Khan Bunpheng, Kong Mas and Voeung Samnang, who will be in prison serving their sentences. Heng Sokleng, who has been on bail since before the trial owing to mental health issues, was given a suspended sentence with time served.

The court canceled arrest warrants for Matt Vanny, who had charges dropped; Chhun Sithy and Ngim Nheng, who received suspended sentences. The 30 other defendants not already in jail or with revoked warrants now have arrest warrants issued against them by the court.

This is the fifth mass trial brought against CNRP leaders and members, as persecution of opposition supporters has continued unabated since 2017. These tough measures have also been directed at rights activists, land disputants and people considered critical of the Cambodian People’s Party government.

Three other mass trials have ended in the conviction of close to 120 defendants, while the fourth mass trial, which includes foreign nationals as defendants, has yet to be restarted after a suspension during the pandemic.

As soon as the judges left the trial chamber, defendants turned around and started talking to journalists about the “injustice” they were facing, with prison guards and police officers quickly ushering observers out of the courtroom.

“If sentencing me five years leads to progress in the country, then let’s do it. But if it devastates the country, then don’t blame the opposition party,” he said sarcastically.

Family members of the defendants broke down on hearing the verdict and were still in tears as they made their way to the sidewalk across from the court.

Men Kuntheavy, Khan Bunpheng’s wife, said five years in prison was too much for her husband, who was already 64 years old.

“I am always worried that he might not [survive] the five years,” she said. “He is sick daily. He is sick and I am also sick.”

With her crying daughter alongside her, Tieng Chenda said she was feeling hopeless.

“A full five years, sisters! Who can I rely on? What can I rely on?” said Chenda, the wife of Voeung Samnang.

As a prison van exited the court premises, family members continued to shout as they waved goodbye to three defendants being taken back to Prey Sar prison.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. with reactions from family members.

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