Former Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was convicted of treason in early March. Kem Sokha, who was the co-president of Cambodia’s main opposition party before its dissolution in 2017, was sentenced to 27 years in prison. His right to vote and to stand for election were permanently revoked.
The conviction, which Kem Sokha has already appealed, concludes the first chapter of a protracted trial that has done little to assuage longstanding concerns about the politicization of Cambodia’s judicial system. It also prevents the only remaining opposition figure with nationwide name-recognition from challenging long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, in national elections scheduled for July. Regardless of the outcome of Kem Sokha’s appeal, his legal persecution has laid bare Hun Sen’s desire to remove any and all threats to his and his party’s grip on power.
Kem Sokha was first arrested at his home in the early hours of Sept. 3, 2017, a development described on the front page of the soon-to-be-shuttered Cambodia Daily as Cambodia’s “Descent Into Outright Dictatorship.” The move came just months after his Cambodian National Rescue Party, or CNRP, had made unprecedented gains in local elections despite the legally enforced resignation of co-president, Sam Rainsy, and less than a year before Kem Sokha was due to lead the party in the 2018 national election.