Cambodian court denies opposition leader’s incitement conviction appeal

Thach Setha was prosecuted for comments he made about the ruling CPP’s historical ties to Vietnam.
By RFA Khmer
2024.02.27
Cambodian court denies opposition leader’s incitement conviction appeal Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha attends a court hearing in Phnom Penh, April 28, 2023.
(Citizen journalist)

Cambodia’s Appeals Court on Tuesday upheld a criminal conviction and three-year prison sentence for Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha.

The opposition figure was arrested in January 2023 and prosecuted for comments he made about the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s historical ties to Vietnam and the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument that was built in Phnom Penh in 1979. 

In October, he was convicted of incitement to provoke social chaos and discrimination. 

Representatives from human rights organizations, the United Nations and the European Union attended Tuesday’s appeal hearing, along with Thach Setha’s family.

“What he said was political speech and not a crime,” his lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, told Radio Free Asia. “Thach Setha said what he said based on history. He didn’t incite.”

Thach Setha’s arrest in early 2023 was seen as part of a months-long campaign of intimidation and threats against opposition leaders and activists ahead of last July’s general election, which was swept by the CPP.

Thach Setha’s Candlelight Party – the country’s main opposition party – was not allowed to compete in the election. The National Election Committee cited inadequate paperwork in ruling last May that it couldn’t appear on the ballot.

‘Based on history’

In a separate case, Thach Setha was found guilty in September on a false check charge that was criticized as politically motivated by human rights groups and party officials. A judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison for that conviction.

In the incitement case, the appeals court judges announced on Tuesday that they agreed that Thach Setha’s comments were criminal. 

Thach Setha has argued that his comments were based on a history book that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978 created a fragile national unity.

His wife, Thach Sokborany, told RFA that the judges ignored the evidence submitted that showed that her husband was only speaking about real events. 

“My husband only made comments based on history and books,” she told RFA. “But the court is politically influenced.”

RFA was unable to reach Appeals Court Judge Khun Leang Meng for comment. 

Choung Chou Ngy said he will discuss with Thach Setha about possibly filing another appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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