Cambodian opposition official gets 3-year sentence for incitement

Thach Setha was already sentenced to 18 months on a bad check charge.
By RFA Khmer
2023.10.18
Cambodian opposition official gets 3-year sentence for incitement Thach Setha, vice president of the Candlelight Party, is brought to Cambodia’s Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, June 19, 2023.
Credit: Citizen journalist

A Phnom Penh judge on Wednesday sentenced the vice president of Cambodia’s main opposition party to three years in prison on an incitement to provoke social chaos and discrimination charge.

The case against 70-year-old Thach Setha stemmed from remarks he made in January about the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s historical ties to Vietnam and the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument. 

The verdict adds to an 18-month sentence he received in a separate case last month. That conviction on a false check charge was deemed politically motivated by human rights groups and party officials.

Thach Setha has been detained since January in a move seen as part of a months-long campaign of intimidation and threats against opposition leaders and activists ahead of the July general election. 

“Please help democracy in Cambodia,” he said on Wednesday to Western diplomats and U.N. officials in the courtroom as he was being led away by guards. “You have seen with your own eyes and ears about the type of democracy Cambodia has.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Seng Heang questioned Thach Setha in court last month and later said he considered the remarks in January to be aimed at provoking hatred toward the CPP and the government.

‘Difficult to accept’

Thach Setha’s lawyer, Son Chum Chuon, told Radio Free Asia that he had hoped that Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Chhun Davy would drop the incitement charge.

“Let the people judge whether the verdict is just or unjust,” he said. “I am not happy and it is difficult to accept it.”

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Thach Setha’s wife, Thach Sokborany [center], and supporters stand outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Oct. 18, 2023. Credit: RFA Khmer Service

Thach Setha’s wife, Thach Sokborany, said her husband has worked in Cambodian politics for 40 years and only wants what’s best for the country.

“He speaks the truth but in return he was thrown in jail,” she said. “It is very unfair. He won’t be defeated. He urged the family not to be defeated.” 

Cambodia’s repression of Candlelight Party officials has apparently stayed the same under Prime Minister Hun Manet, said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“No one should be fooled that his government will be any better than what we saw under his father’s oppressive rule,” he said, referring to Hun Sen, who led Cambodia for several decades before stepping down as prime minister in August.

“Cambodian officials and their allies in the international community who are trying to spin that Hun Manet is a kinder, gentler version of his father simply don’t have any facts on their side,” Robertson said.

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

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