A CAMBODIAN court upheld convictions of 11 members and supporters of Cambodia’s now-defunct opposition party, amid growing concerns for the state of democracy in the country in the lead up to July’s general election.
“The Appeal Court decides to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision…and continues to detain the 11 individuals,” Judge Plang Samnang said, without giving a reason.
The “insurrection” convictions were handed down to the 11 members and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who were jailed for terms ranging from seven to 20 years in 2014, after they forcibly tried to reopen the country’s only designated protest venue, “Freedom Park,” in July that year.
Their arrest and subsequent imprisonment was part of a larger scale crackdown on opposition from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 33 years.
Hun Sen stepped up his campaign against dissent and freedom of speech after the 2013 general election saw his ruling Cambodian People’s Party claim only a very narrow margin over CNRP.
The CNRP has since been dissolved, following a judgment from the Supreme Court, that saw its members banned from politics and its leader, Kem Sokha, jailed on charges of treason.
Fresh fears of authoritarian rule resurfaced this week after the takeover of Cambodia’s last remaining independent newspaper, The Phnom Penh Post.
Staff were left shell-shocked after new owner, Sivakumar S Ganapthy who has ties to both the Malaysian and Cambodian government, fired the editor in chief and two reporters. His decision was followed by a mass exodus of staff that saw the resignation of as many as 13 foreign journalists from the 26-year-old paper.
Dozens of radio stations have been forced off the air and an English-language newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, was forced to close last year after the government gave it a month’s deadline to settle a US$6.3-million tax bill.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the case against the opposition aimed to silence government critics ahead of the election.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party apparently decided to lock up political opponents to stave off defeat at the ballot-box,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement on Monday
Additional reporting by Reuters.