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 Rainsy†||7 years||Phorn Phanna||5 years|
|Mu Sochua†||7 years||Vann Narith†||7 years|
|Eng Chhai Eang†||7 years||Sor Chandeth||5 years|
|Tioulong Saumura†||7 years||Seng Meng Bunrong||5 years|
|Ho Vann†||7 years||Matt Vanny||Charges dropped|
|Ou Chanrith†||7 years||Sum Seyha||5 years|
|Men Sothavarin†||7 years||Chhun Sithy||5 years, fully suspended|
|Long Ry†||7 years||Prak Sarom||5 years|
|Mao Vibol||5 years||Ngim Nheng||5 years, fully suspended|
|Sot Silat||5 years||Voeung Samnang||5 years|
|Khin Samorn||5 years||Long Botta||5 years|
|Chhun Vean||5 years||Leng Sotheary||5 years|
|Chham Sophorn||5 years||Khan Bunpheng||5 years|
|Khin Chamroeun||5 years||Heng Danaro†||7 years|
|Khlaing Bun Lay||5 years||Kong Mas||5 years|
|Nuth Rumduol†||7 years||Ath Vichet||5 years|
|Tor Nimol||5 years||Buth Sokunthea Thierry||5 years|
|Hay Vanna||5 years||Heng Sokleng||5 years, suspended with time served|
|Oun Pov||5 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.