Nine defendants were jailed for 12 to 20 months for incitement for their involvement in protests outside the Chinese Embassy last October, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled on Monday.
The defendants, who have connections to the outlawed opposition CNRP, were part of a protest to hand petitions to the embassies of China, France and the U.S. on October 23.
On Monday, judge Ouk Reth Kunthea handed 12-month sentences to Sat Pha, 47; Pai Ren, 43; and Sann Srey Neat, 41; and 18-month sentences to Lim San, 60; Yoy Sreymom, 52; Ton Nimol, 38; and Hong An, 45.
All seven were handed fines of 2 million riel (about $500) each. An was sentenced as an instigator.
Two other defendants at large, former CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann, 73, and San Seihak, 32, were handed 20-month sentences as instigators. The court also fined them 2 million riel each and issued warrants for their arrest.
Reth Kunthea said the defendants had the right to appeal the decision.
On October 23, the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which formally ended years of conflict and mandated that Cambodia pursue a multiparty democracy, about 15 protesters participated in the rally outside the Chinese Embassy. Their petition said the government was violating the agreement as well as the democratic principles it stipulated.
Seven of the protesters were subsequently arrested in October and December.
After the judge announced the verdict, An, who has been imprisoned at Phnom Penh’s PJ prison, told the judge that she had been treated unfairly and had not received proper medical attention at the prison.
Another defendant, Nimol, told a reporter outside the courtroom that he did not believe he had done anything wrong as he was just trying to submit a petition.
“This is injustice for me,” Nimol said. He said he would file an appeal.
Phan Sat, 39, the daughter of San, 60, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail, said by phone that she disagreed with the verdict.
“They just submitted a petition and did not cause chaos as they were charged. Did simply submitting a petition cause chaos?”
Sat said her mother’s health had deteriorated in prison, including problems with her heart, stomach and bowels.
Everyone had the right to love their country, Sat said.
“[They] just brought a petition to submit, simply, and they were forcefully arrested and charged like this. I don’t agree,” she said, adding that the $500 fine would also be hard for her to pay.
Chey Sreyny, Nimol’s wife, said she couldn’t accept the verdict. “He was arrested without making any mistake, and put him in jail for 18 months,” Sreyny said.
The main opposition CNRP was banned in 2017 amid a crackdown on civil society and independent media. Many opposition party activists have faced court action for ongoing support for the outlawed party.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director for rights group Licadho, said the sentence was too severe against the protesters.
He said there had been many criticisms about the case, including from U.N. human rights representatives.
Cambodians’ right of expression was in decline, and Covid-19 was only increasing restrictions, he said.
“This verdict is a sign of the decline in freedom of expression,” he said.
Additional reporting by Khan Leakhena
Updated at 8:47 a.m. with information about arrest warrants for the defendants at large.