US rights group rates Cambodian-American activist’s trial as an ‘F’

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Supporters of imprisoned Cambodian American and human rights lawyer Theary Seng called on the Cambodian government to grant her release days after a New York-based human rights organization called her June 14 trial “a mockery of justice.”

Theary Seng, along with 50 other activists, was sentenced to six years in prison for their association with Cambodia’s banned National Rescue Party after the country’s main opposition to the Supreme Court dissolved it in 2017.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice, founded by actor George Clooney and his wife and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, gave the trial an F for ignoring Cambodia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). signed in 1980 and ratified in 1992.

The foundation urged the appeals court to overturn Theary Seng’s conviction and order her release.

“This case was pretty much predetermined,” said Andrew Khoo, co-chair of the Malaysian Bar’s Constitutional Law Committee, which reviewed the case for the foundation.

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“Theary Seng was not condemned for what she did, but for supporting democratic change in Cambodia. Her continued incarceration constitutes arbitrary detention under the ICCPR, which prohibits detaining anyone for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Theary Seng, who is known for donning elaborate costumes during her public protests, appeared in front of the courthouse on the day the trial ended, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, awaiting the verdict. After the court found her and the others guilty, she was quickly taken into custody and sent to prison.

Other activists are also pushing for her release. Sat Pha, who once stood shoulder to shoulder with Theary Seng at protests before fleeing to Thailand for fear of political persecution, told RFA’s Khmer Service Sunday that she and other exiles planned to wear t-shirts and demand that her co-workers activist was to be released this weekend in Bangkok on the occasion of Pchum Ben, the Cambodian festival for commemorating ancestors.

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“Even though I’m in another country now. I strongly demand that the government release Theary Seng without conditions,” Sat Pha said.

Others in Cambodia marched and sent petitions to foreign embassies from democratic countries, said Prum Chantha, a protester from the Friday Women Group, who protested weekly at the court during the trial in support of their husbands, who were eventually convicted along with Theary Seng.

“I appeal to the government to release Theary Seng and our husbands because they have done nothing wrong. [They should] and drop all charges,’ said Prum Chantha.

Sokun Tola, a member of the Khmer Thavarak youth organization, told RFA she believes Theary Seng is a good role model for the younger generation thanks to her advocacy to end injustice and bring freedom to the Cambodian people.

“I think the government should consider releasing Seng Theary [and the rest] during the Pchum Ben festival so that they can join the festival,” said Sokun Tola.

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Theary Seng has been treated under the law, government spokesman Phai Siphan told RFA on Monday.

“The government authorities have no jurisdiction over the court, nor can we intervene or order the court to close this case. We have no authority over the court,” he said.

However, the government often makes that excuse, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights told RFA.

“She always say that the arrest and detention of political activists is done according to the law,” he said. “But human rights experts, the UN Human Rights Council and democratic countries see that the arrests and detentions of former political activists and Seng Theary are politically motivated, rather than a correct application of the law.”

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Eugene Whong.