Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was on Friday sentenced to 27 years in jail for treason, a verdict that ruled him out of elections this year and was immediately denounced by the United States as a “miscarriage of justice”.
Kem Sokha was accused of hatching a “secret plan” in collusion with foreign entities to topple the government of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen, upon his arrest in 2017.
The 69-year-old co-founder of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has long been a prominent adversary of Hun Sen, who critics say has wound back democratic freedoms and used the courts to stifle opposition.
Kem Sokha has repeatedly denied the charges against him, which rights groups say were designed to bar him from politics ahead of July’s elections.
Immediately after the verdict at the Phnom Penh court, he was placed under house arrest and banned from meeting foreigners and anyone who is not a family member without permission of the court.
His daughter Kem Monovithya tweeted his house was now under police surveillance.
US ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, who was at the court, slammed the trial and sentence as a “miscarriage of justice”.
“The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction of respected political leader Kem Sokha,” he told reporters.
Last August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Kem Sokha during a visit to Phnom Penh, where he also raised concerns about the kingdom’s ailing democracy in talks with Hun Sen.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said the verdict shows “authoritarians have won” in Cambodia.
“This is Cambodian democracy hitting rock bottom,” he told AFP.
As Kem Sokha was led away from the court he smiled and greeted diplomats attending the court, an AFP reporter said.
“I cannot accept this ruling,” supporter Chea Samuon told AFP outside the court, where there was a tight security presence.
“It is very unjust for him and the people. He is not guilty, this is political pressure.”
Kem Sokha has one month to appeal the conviction and jail sentence.
The court also stripped him of his right to vote and barred him from running for political office.