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US: Mass Conviction Is Latest 'Alarming' Action by Cambodia

Cambodian-US human rights advocate Theary Seng, dressed as Lady Liberty, is arrested by police after being found guilty of treason in her trial in front of the Phnom Penh municipal court on June 14, 2022. (Photo by Samuel / AFP)

The United States expressed concern Wednesday over Cambodia's recent mass conviction of opposition figures including an outspoken Cambodian-American activist, warning it represents part of an "alarming pattern" of actions that undermine democracy.

A Phnom Penh court convicted around 60 opposition figures Tuesday in a mass trial that comes as the country's long-serving leader Hun Sen -- who visited Washington last month for a regional meeting -- cracks down on dissent ahead of national elections next year.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the June 14 mass conviction of opposition activists in Cambodia, including Cambodian-American lawyer Theary Seng," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The sentencing "is the latest instance in an alarming pattern of threats, intimidation, and persecution of opposition political leaders and parties," Price added. "These actions undermine multiparty democracy and the rule of law."

The defendants faced charges ranging from treason to incitement and conspiracy over opposition leader Sam Rainsy's failed bid to return to Cambodia in 2019 -- a move characterized by the government as an aborted bid to overthrow Hun Sen.

While some of those sentenced were senior figures in the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) directly involved in organizing the return, many were prosecuted simply for posting support on social media.

The United States, said Price, calls on authorities of the Southeast Asian nation "to release all those unjustly detained, including Theary Seng, and protect freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly."

Prime Minister Hun Sen -- one of the world's longest-serving leaders, having been in power for 37 years -- attended a summit at the State Department in Washington last month with other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.