Cambodian Activist Updates: A Cambodian-American activist was condemned to six years in prison for treason after arriving at her trial dressed as Lady Liberty. Theary Seng is one of 60 defendants charged in connection with opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s aborted return from exile.
Some have already been sentenced to prison, while others are still on the loose. It’s unclear how many people showed up in court on Tuesday.
According to the Associated Press, Theary Seng branded the verdict a “sham.”
She reportedly stated, “I am willing to pay the price of prison in order to live out my conscience and my conviction in freedom and justice.” Before being hauled away by police on Tuesday, she appeared outside court dressed in a green gown, holding an imitation flame and wearing a crown with the word “Freedom” written across it.
The outspoken activist and lawyer is renowned for wearing themed costumes to her court appearances in the past.
“The mass trials against political opponents are mainly about avoiding any electoral threat to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s power, but they’ve also come to symbolise the demise of Cambodia’s democracy,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.
Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Prime Minister, has been in power since 1985, making him one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. However, he is viewed as an autocratic character with a dismal human rights record and the financial means to stymie any serious political threat.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), led by Mr Rainsy, who has long been Hun Sen’s main foe, is his principal opponent.
Seng, the founder of the civic society charity Civicus, arrived at the courthouse on foot in an emerald gown, holding a papier-mache torch and a crown proclaiming “Freedom.” She said, “I am Lady Liberty,” as rush-hour traffic rushed by. “I am liberty. And it won’t just be me who is found guilty today; it will be all Cambodians who love freedom and are genuine democrats.”
Seng was hauled into a waiting police van as soon as the judge handed down the decision. Outside the court, members of the Friday Wives protest group were pushed by police as they attempted to hoist up a banner.
The CNRP was disbanded in 2019 as part of a crackdown on the opposition, and Mr Rainsy has been living in exile in Paris since then. In 2019, he sought to return to Cambodia but was denied boarding on an aircraft from Paris, according to him. Mr Rainsy is facing many cases in his own country, all of which his supporters claim are politically motivated.