Cambodia’s Supreme Court has ordered the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party, leaving the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen with no real opposition ahead of elections next year.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was accused of plotting to overthrow Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 32 years -- charges the CNRP denies and claims are politically motivated.
The court also ruled that more than 100 CNRP officials would be banned from politics for five years.
Lawyers for the interior ministry presented 26 pieces of evidence to the court, which is presided over by Judge Dith Munty, a ruling party member.
The opposition declined to submit evidence in its defense or send lawyers to the trial, the outcome of which it viewed as predetermined in favor of the ruling party.
The government’s “evidence” included 10 video clips, several documents and photos which they claimed proved the CNRP had been involved in engineering a “color revolution” in the lead up to and aftermath of the 2013 election.
The videos depicted mass opposition protests during the election period, which were widely broadcast at the time.
The period of protest following the election came to an abrupt halt in early January 2014, when government security forces shot dead at least five people and pro-government thugs attacked an opposition protest camp in the capital, Phnom Penh.
In closing remarks, Judge Munty said: “The Supreme Court decided to uphold the Interior Ministry’s complaint to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party and ban individuals as listed from involvement in politics for five years from today and ban any protests.”
Ahead of the trial, Hun Sen had goaded the opposition by offering to take cash bets that the CNRP would be dissolved.
After the judgment, he said the decision would help stabilize Cambodia and repeated calls for members of the opposition to defect to his Cambodian People’s Party.
The CNRP president, Kem Sokha, remains in detention on charges of treason related to claims he led the plot to overthrow Hun Sen.
Mu Sochua, a CNRP vice president, said the CNRP would continue to operate, adding that it intended to contest the election in 2018.
Hundreds of security forces were deployed in Phnom Penh and major roads throughout the country in anticipation of protests over the trial.
James Gomez, director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific for Amnesty, said:
“This is yet more evidence of how the judiciary in Cambodia is essentially used as an arm of the executive and as a political tool to silence dissent. The Supreme Court President Judge is known to have close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and is a member of high level committees of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.”
In a separate statement, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, urged Japan and the European Union to suspend financial and technical assistance to the 2018 election and boycott election observation unless the CNRP was legally reinstated.
“And the rest of the international community should be dusting off their sanctioning authority and preparing to act against senior CPP figures and Cambodia military commanders with blood on their hands and corrupt dollars in their pockets,” he added.
The E.U. managing director for Asia and the Pacific, Gunnar Wiegand, who was on a visit to Cambodia, told the government that if the CNRP was “arbitrarily excluded” from the election process the 2018 poll would “not be seen as legitimate”.