Cam­bo­dia jails oppn law­maker crit­i­cal of govt

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Cam­bo­dian court yes­ter­day sen­tenced an op­po­si­tion law­maker who has been a strong critic of the govern­ment’s han­dling of de­mar­cat­ing the bor­der with neigh­bor­ing Viet­nam to 2 1/2 years in prison for on­line post­ings he made. Um Sam An is the lat­est mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party to be sen­tenced for mak­ing com­ments on the po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive topic and im­ply­ing that Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen’s govern­ment failed to counter land en­croach­ment by Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia’s tra­di­tional en­emy.

In hand­ing out the sen­tence, Judge Heng Sokna of the Ph­nom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court said the ac­cu­sa­tions made by Um Sam An in Face­book posts last year aimed to cause chaos in so­ci­ety. The law­maker was ar­rested in April in the Cam­bo­dian city of Siem Reap after hav­ing re­turned from a trip to the United States. A month ago, the same court sen­tenced Kem Sokha, deputy to the op­po­si­tion party’s leader, to five months in prison for twice ig­nor­ing a sum­mons to an­swer ques­tions re­lated to a case in­volv­ing his al­leged mistress.

Crit­ics say Hun Sen is ma­nip­u­lat­ing the courts to weaken the op­po­si­tion’s chances in next year’s lo­cal polls and the 2018 gen­eral elec­tion. The op­po­si­tion made an un­ex­pect­edly strong show­ing in the 2013 gen­eral elec­tion, which it claimed it was cheated out of win­ning. One vic­tim of the le­gal moves has been op­po­si­tion leader Sam Rainsy, who did not re­turn from a trip abroad last Novem­ber when an old con­vic­tion for defama­tion was re­stored and his par­lia­men­tary im­mu­nity was stripped by the govern­ment’s leg­isla­tive ma­jor­ity. It had been gen­er­ally as­sumed that the con­vic­tion, car­ry­ing a two-year prison sen­tence, had been lifted by a 2013 par­don that al­lowed Sam Rainsy to re­turn from a pre­vi­ous pe­riod of self-ex­ile.

Po­lit­i­cal truce

Yes­ter­day’s con­vic­tion of Um Sam An came after the op­po­si­tion un­ex­pect­edly failed to at­tend the re­open­ing of par­lia­ment on Fri­day, set­ting back hopes of a po­lit­i­cal truce with the govern­ment. The party stopped at­tend­ing par­lia­men­tary ses­sions about four months ago after rul­ing party law­mak­ers stripped some op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers of their le­gal im­mu­nity. The op­po­si­tion says law­suits have been used to un­fairly ha­rass its mem­bers.

Hun Sen has been Cam­bo­dia’s leader for three decades. But in a gen­eral elec­tion in 2013, it seemed his grip on power was shaken when the Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party mounted a strong chal­lenge, win­ning 55 seats in the Na­tional Assembly and leav­ing Hun Sen’s Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple’s Party with 68. The op­po­si­tion claimed it had been cheated and staged a boy­cott of par­lia­ment. Seek­ing to shore up his le­git­i­macy, Hun Sen reached a po­lit­i­cal truce with the op­po­si­tion in 2014, mak­ing some mi­nor con­ces­sions over elec­toral and par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dures.

But re­la­tions de­te­ri­o­rated last year after the op­po­si­tion tried to ex­ploit a volatile is­sue by ac­cus­ing neigh­bor­ing Viet­nam, with which Hun Sen’s govern­ment main­tains good re­la­tions, of land en­croach­ment. The move proved po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar, and the govern­ment re­acted by stepping up in­tim­i­da­tion of the op­po­si­tion party in the courts, which are seen as be­ing un­der its in­flu­ence. Hun Sen’s party has often been ac­cused in the past of us­ing vi­o­lence or the threat of vi­o­lence against op­po­nents, but in re­cent years has stalked its foes mostly in the courts. —AP

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