Court gives Cambodian opposition leader additional charges as election nears

The charges will keep Thach Setha in jail longer, preventing him from campaigning in July election.
By RFA Khmer
Court gives Cambodian opposition leader additional charges as election nears In this screen grab from a video, Thach Setha, Vice President of the Candlelight Party waves as he walks to Phnom Penh Municipality Court, April 28, 2023.
Screen grab from citizen journalist video

A Cambodian court on Friday gave additional charges to a detained opposition leader, a move that will likely prevent him from campaigning ahead of July’s general elections.

Sporting a shaggy white goatee he grew while in detention, Thach Setha stepped out of the prison van wearing orange prison garb. The 69-year-old smiled and waved to reporters and supporters as he entered the Phnom Penh Municipal court to finish his bail hearing.

In July, he was charged with writing false checks. On Friday, Thach Setha, vice president of Cambodia’s main opposition Candlelight Party, was charged with “incitement to provoke social chaos” over remarks he made in a speech last year while visiting Japan, his lawyers told Radio Free Asia.

NGOs said the charges are politically motivated and accused the court of deliberately attempting to keep Thach Setha detained so that he is unable to campaign in the runup to the election if not missing it altogether. 

It’s the latest example of the Cambodian government targeting political opposition to the country’s strongman leader Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party, ahead of the July 23 election.

If convicted, the new charge can imprison Thach Setha between six months to two years.

The additional charges will undoubtedly force Thach Setha to remain in prison longer, as they constitute a more serious crime than the previous charges, said Ros Sotha, executive director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition.

He urged the ruling party to allow free and fair elections, saying, “I would like the politicians to consider their people. they have been suffering for many months already.”

The case against Thach Setha is politically motivated, Y Soksan, a senior officer in the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, told RFA. He said that Thach Setha has attempted to repay the checks that bounced but the recipients are refusing so that his detention can be prolonged.

"The case should be resolved, but instead it will be dragged out," said Y Soksan

Thach Setha's wife Thach Sokborany told RFA that she hopes  the court will release her husband on bail so that he can be treated for various health issues including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

"I ask the court to have clemency on him. He has a heart condition,” she said.  “Please have clemency … so he can reunite with his family.”

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Eugene Whong.


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