PHNOM PENH —
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday sentenced the deputy leader of Cambodia’s opposition party, Kem Sokha, to five months in prison for failing to appear for questioning over a separate charge.
He was also fined about $200 by the court.
Sokha had failed to show up for questioning over his alleged affair with a hairdresser, Khom Chandaraty.
Investigating Judge Keo Mony said on Friday that Sokha had been found guilty in absentia.
Immediately after the ruling, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party issued a statement calling the decision politically motivated.
Chan Cheng, Sokha’s lawyer, said the verdict “did not consistently comply with the law” and violated the constitution as Sokha was protected from prosecution by parliamentary immunity.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has previously argued that there was enough evidence in the case so that his immunity did not apply.
Ly Sophanna, a court spokesman, said Sokha had the right to appeal the verdict.
During Friday’s hearing Sokha’s supporters scuffled with district security guards deployed outside the court. One protester was arrested and later released.
Speaking at the party headquarters, Sokha said he was committed “to struggle and sacrifice for Cambodia without any hesitation even though they have harassed me with the power of the state, and used the courts as a tool to attack my political rights and end my life in politics.”
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator at local rights group Licadho, said the ruling did not bode well for upcoming local elections due to be held next year before a general election in 2018.
“In pluralist societies, all the parties act based on the principle of equality ... and when any political party is put under pressure, it means that the election will be not free and fair,” he said.