Human rights officials on Tuesday strongly criticized the military court’s conviction and sentencing of a prominent opposition party lawmaker. Cheam Channy was sentenced earlier Tuesday to seven years in prison for purportedly organizing an armed force to oppose the government, despite scant evidence.
International, U.S. and Cambodian rights officials said the court action obviously is aimed at silencing and frightening the increasingly sidelined opposition, and further undermines the assertion that Cambodia is a democracy.
Cheam Channy was arrested on Feb 3, a few hours after the National Assembly voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, alleging that he was forming an illegal army. He has been detained since.
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh issued a statement condemning Tuesday’s court ruling as an ‘’intimidation’’ tactic targeting government critics and called on the National Assembly to restore the immunity of opposition members of parliament immediately. It also said the conduct of the trial raises questions about the competence and independence of Cambodia's judiciary system and urged authorities to reassess Cheam Channy's case.
Brad Adams, the Asia Director of the New York based Human Rights Watch, called the trial a complete sham that poses a serious threat to Cambodia's democracy. He said the entire procedure was ‘’biased,’’ noting that the court did not allow Cheam Channy's lawyers to call their client's witnesses to take the stand.
An ‘’action committee’’ made up of officials from 18 human rights groups in Phnom Penh monitored the proceedings closely and said the verdict was groundless because the court lacked evidence documenting its allegations.
Military court Judge Ney Thol could not be reached for comments to the reactions from different organizations. He earlier maintained the verdict was based on witness accounts. Government officials, including government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, could not be reached for comment.