Updated at 4:42 p.m. — The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced opposition leaders living abroad to 20 to 25 years in prison and stripped them of their right to stand in elections with only a Bar Association-assigned lawyer’s secretary present for the defense, according to a lawyer and court spokesperson.
Party co-founder Sam Rainsy was given 25 years, vice presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang 22 years, and ex-lawmakers Tioulong Saumura, Nut Romduol, Ho Vann, Ou Chanrith, Long Ry and Men Sothavarin 20 years, said court spokesperson Y Rin.
Presiding Judge Duch Sok Sarin on Monday also stripped the nine leaders of their right to vote, stand for election or be a public official, Rin said. They were also ordered to pay 1.8 billion riel, or about $450,000, altogether in damages to the government.
Rin said the court considered the verdict as having been presented in front of the accused. But Rin also said that defense lawyer Sam Sokong was not present.
The court is closed due to Covid-19, and all nine defendants are living overseas. Some have been denied entry to Cambodia to attend the trial.
Bar Association-assigned defense lawyer Kao Seyha — whom one CNRP leader has said she does not accept as their representative — said on Tuesday that he was also not present at the sentencing, but he had asked his secretary to attend.
He said he had no comment.
“If they are not satisfied, they have the right to appeal,” Seyha said.
The nine leaders were found guilty for “attack,” with the prosecution accusing the group of an attempted coup, presenting evidence of speeches about raising funds to support defecting soldiers.
The party, the country’s main opposition, was outlawed in 2017 after CNRP president Kem Sokha was arrested for allegedly conspiring with the U.S. to topple the government.
In a statement issued late Monday, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson called the prison sentences “outrageously harsh” and said they were intended to “slam the door shut on these exiles ever returning to Cambodia.”
Robertson also criticized the sentencing being handed down despite the courts being closed, particularly to trial monitors.
“Tricking observers and ultimately also defendants into believing that trials are postponed adds to the outrageous violations of the right to a fair trial in Cambodia,” he said.
CNRP vice president Sochua said Tuesday afternoon that what she and other CNRP leaders worried about most was that the judicial system was being used as a tool of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“For us, even [if we] have been sentenced to 20 years, 30 years or 100 years, it is meaningless because we and the people know and understand that we are not traitors and never had the intention to hold any coup d’etat,” Sochua said.
“We want to have positive change through free and fair elections that provide people with hope and our youth with a clear future,” added Sochua. “We will continue our struggle for democracy in our country.”
Additional reporting by Ouch Sony
Updated at 4:42 p.m. with Mu Sochua’s response.