The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has commenced a mass trial against 139 activists and supporters of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) charged with conspiracy to commit treason and incitement to commit felony over their involvement in non-violent political activities.
The CNRP was the sole opposition party in the parliament of Cambodia. The party had been expected to present a challenge to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in the 2018 general election. However, the CNRP was disbanded by the high court in 2017. This allowed Hun Sen’s party to win the 2018 without opposition. He has been in power for 35 years and has often been criticized for running an authoritarian regime.
Municipal court spokesperson Kuch Kimlong said Thursday that only 34 defendants were present during the first hearing. The trial will resume on January 14 and March 4. Ny Sokha of the local rights group ADHOC expressed concerns, as an unknown number of defendants are believed to be living abroad. Cambodia allows for trials in absentia and it is expected that those party members who have already fled the country will still be tried.
Sam Sokong, one of the defense lawyers, said, “It is the first time since I began representing opposition group members that such a huge number as nearly 130 are standing trial together.” He also said that he was doubtful if this arrangement by the courts would allow for a fair decision to be rendered in compliance with international standards.