Phnom Penh-Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was on Friday sentenced to 27 years in jail for treason, a verdict that ruled him out of elections this year and was immediately denounced by the United States as a “miscarriage of justice”. Kem Sokha was accused of hatching a “secret plan” in collusion with foreign entities to topple the government of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen, upon his arrest in 2017. Immediately after the verdict at the Phnom Penh court, he was placed under house arrest and banned from meeting foreigners and anyone who is not a family member without permission of the court. His daughter Kem Monovithya tweeted his house was now under police surveillance.
US ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, who was at the court, slammed the trial and sentence as a “miscarriage of justice”. “The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction of respected political leader Kem Sokha,” he told reporters. Last August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Kem Sokha during a visit to Phnom Penh, where he also raised concerns about the kingdom’s ailing democracy in talks with Hun Sen. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk urged the government to promptly release Kem Sokha.
“It is deeply concerning that the Royal Government of Cambodia continues to suppress political opponents and independent media in the lead-up to elections in July,” he said in a statement. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said the verdict shows “authoritarians have won” in Cambodia. “This is Cambodian democracy hitting rock bottom,” he told AFP.