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Rights group criticizes Cambodia opposition leader's conviction

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday called [press release] the closed door trial of Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy [official profile] and two others a "farce," saying the ruling demonstrates the government's control over the country's judiciary. Rainsy was convicted [RFA report] Wednesday, in absentia, of inciting racial discrimination and intentionally destroying posts demarcating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Two villagers were convicted of the same crimes. HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said the decision was the result of political motivations by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen [official profile]:

The Cambodian government's relentless crackdown on critics continues apace in 2010. Hun Sen seems intent on reversing the political pluralism that has been created over the past two decades. Any hopes of slowing Hun Sen's assault on the political opposition now depends on the donor community, which props up the government financially. This political trial should make donors recognize the gravity of the situation.

Rainsy was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 8 million riels (approximately USD $2,000), and the two villagers were each sentenced to one year in prison. All three were required to pay 55 million riels (approximately USD $13,000) for destroying the border markings.

The charges stem from an incident [Phnom Penh Post report] in October where Rainsy joined Cambodian villagers in removing six temporary border markers, which the villagers said were placed on their lands by Vietnamese authorities. Rainsy called the planting of the border markers a border incursion and said his conviction was requested by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung [BBC profile]. Rainsy was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in November, and an arrest warrant was issued for him in December after he failed to appear for questioning about the incident. He has said he would return to the country and allow himself to be taken into custody if the two villagers are released from prison.

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