Cambodian opposition figure Thach Setha jailed for three years

PHNOM PENH: A Cambodian court on Wednesday jailed a senior opposition figure for three years over his social media post discussing the disputed history of the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.
The ultra-Maoist regime left about two million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation, illness and mass executions from 1975-79.
Cambodia’s ruling party commemorates January 7 as “Victory Day”, marking the liberation of the country from the Khmer Rouge’s rule, but opposition activists describe it as the start of Vietnam’s decade-long occupation of Cambodia.
Thach Setha, a vice president of the opposition Candlelight Party, in January posted a video to Facebook discussing the politically sensitive history of January 7, but his critical comments drew the ire of authorities accusing him of incitement ahead of the July election.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday found Thach Setha guilty of two incitement charges.
He was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, his lawyer Sam Sokong told AFP.
“The defence team is disappointed with the ruling because it is an unjust conviction,” he said, adding that his team would consult with Thach Setha about whether to appeal.
In January, Thach Setha was also arrested for allegedly issuing bad cheques and received an 18-month jail sentence in that case last month.
Government critics say that case was politically motivated because he was taken into custody ahead of the country’s election which the ruling party won by a landslide.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all but five of 125 seats in the lower house in July polls that were widely dismissed as a sham after the Candlelight Party was barred from running over registration technicalities.
Rights groups have accused former prime minister Hun Sen — who ruled Cambodia for nearly four decades — of using the legal system to crush any opposition to his rule.
Hun Sen stepped down in August and handed the leadership baton to his eldest son, Hun Manet.
Thach Setha is the first opposition figure to face criminal convictions since Hun Manet came to power.
Scores of opposition politicians and activists were convicted and jailed during Hun Sen’s time in power.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the government’s repression of opposition activists had not ceased since Hun Manet became premier.
“This conviction is yet more proof that the Cambodian government will not rest until it has broken and buried the Candlelight Party and its leaders,” Robertson said, calling Thach Setha’s sentence over critical comments “ludicrous and outrageous”.

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