PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - A court in Cambodia convened on Thursday (Jan 14) for the treason trial of scores of opposition figures, one of a series of cases seen by activists as moves by the ruling party to sideline threats to its political monopoly.
The defendants are among 121 people affiliated with the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who are charged with treason and incitement.
Sixty-one opposition figures have been summoned to appear in court, Mu Sochua, CNRP's deputy president who is in the United States, told Reuters in a text message.
It was not immediately clear how many would show up, given many are in exile fearing they would not get a fair hearing.
The CNRP was banned and its leader Kem Sokha arrested before an election in 2018, allowing Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party to win every parliamentary seat, prompting international concern.
Theary Seng, an American-Cambodian lawyer who was among those due in court, said she had a right to express opinions, including the right to express dissent.
"The real purpose of the charges against me is to silence me," she said in a statement.
Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said in a statement: "These mass trials are an affront to international fair trial standards, Cambodia's human rights commitments and the rule of law." Mu Sochua said in an email she would lead exiled party members and activists to Cambodia on Sunday to defend themselves in court, which she said was duty-bound to enable their return.
Mu Sochua said the mass trials were politically motivated and that authorities were spreading fear to discourage opposition supporters from rallying behind their leaders.
The charges against party leader Kem Sokha stem from accusations he conspired with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen - accusations he and Washington reject.
The government said defendants would be allowed to return to Cambodia but must abide by the court's decision. "We don't cause any trouble for them... they can come freely," said government spokesman Phay Siphan.
Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the court had "fulfilled its duty" but declined to say whether the defendants would be allowed entry.
The foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.