[JURIST] Eleven Cambodia opposition members on Tuesday were sentenced to long-term prison terms for participating in July 2014 clashes related to the closing of a protest site. Three of the eleven individuals, all part of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) [official website], have been handed twenty year sentences [Phnom Penh Post report]. Lawyers, CNRP supporters, and rights groups believe the sentences are unfair. Defense counsel for one member of the CNRP stated [Al Jazeera report], “this is a very serious sentencing. We lawyers cannot accept these convictions.” Others believe that the timing and severity of the sentences indicate a lack of governmental transparency, as the sentences correlate with CNRP’s recent act of leaving parliament after the approval of a restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) law.
The lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature has led to international concern. In April the UN Human Rights Committee stated [report, DOC] that the government needs to make public all draft legislation in order to facilitate debate. Cambodia has had a history of human rights abuses that have continued to alarm rights organizations around the world. In March Cambodia’s Parliament [official website] passed [JURIST report] two controversial new election laws that rights groups criticized as ill-conceived and potentially damaging to free speech. In January Cambodian General Sao Sohka admitted to using force [JURIST report] against political opponents of the CPP. Earlier in January the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) restarted genocide hearings [JURIST report] against the former Khmer Rouge regime’s surviving leaders. Proceedings had been postponed since November, when defense lawyers refused to participate [JURIST report] because they were still working to appeal an earlier verdict. In October the Cambodian government released survey findings [JURIST report] that showed the magnitude of violence against children throughout the country. In September UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi commented [JURIST report] on Cambodia’s recent efforts in human rights protection, noting that while there have been improvements, there are still substantial problems in the judicial system.