Govt critics back in court

Bold statement: Theary Seng dressed in a Khmer Apsara dance costume as she arrives at the courthouse in Phnom Penh. — AP

A mass trial of critics and opponents of Cambodia’s government charged with treason for their non-violent political activities has resumed amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Only six of 44 defendants summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court turned up at Tuesday’s session, said defence lawyer Sam Sokong.

The trial had been suspended for more than a year due to coronavirus restrictions.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodian-American lawyer Theary Seng, who lives on the outskirts of the capital city and is one of the most outspoken critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen, made a show of defiance when she attended the reopened trial.

Theary Seng arrived wearing the costume of a Cambodian classical Apsara dancer. She held lotus flowers as she walked slowly and quietly in front of the courthouse, followed by a throng of journalists.

“This is political theatre and unlike the other actors I have my own role; I write my own role,” Theary Seng told reporters.

She said her traditional outfit cast her as a “wounded Apsara” dancer that could represent “the Cambodian population suffering under this autocratic regime”.

Theary Seng says she has no political party affiliation, but most of those summoned are supporters of the disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Its self-exiled head and co-founder Sam Rainsy was one of the no-shows at the resumed trial, while other absentees lived in the remote countryside and were unaware of the court date, Sam Sokong said.Almost all of the defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony, which together carry a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison, according to lawyers and rights activists.

Most of the defendants are accused of being involved with organising a failed trip home by Sam Rainsy that authorities blocked in November 2019. — AP

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