Peace and solidarity activists denounce political repression in Cambodia: call to free Theary Seng and all detained opposition figures

Philippine-based solidarity group Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and members of the GPPAC Working Group on Enabling Collaboration (GPPAC WGEC) joined global democrats and activists in denouncing the political repression in Cambodia in a mass trial when a Cambodian court handed down jail sentences last week to about 60 opposition figures including prominent Cambodian-American lawyer and human rights activist Theary Seng for reportedly conspiring to commit treason.

The GPPAC-WGEC has been accompanying the peace process between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) for years.

Theary Seng, who arrived at the court hearing garbed as the Statue of Liberty, was sentenced to six years in jail and the court immediately ordered her arrest and was transferred to a remote detention facility inaccessible even to her lawyers.

The much-publicized court verdicts sparked renewed international concern about Cambodia's state of democracy and rule of law under Prime Minister Hun Sen who earned notoriety for persecuting his political critics. The verdict is part of a series of mass trials that started in November 2020 targeting 138 CNRP members for their support of the attempted return to Cambodia of the exiled leader of the party, Sam Rainsy, in 2019.

IID and GPPAC-WGEC said, “We are one with the world in condemning the sham trial in Cambodia. We call on the government of Cambodia to immediately release Theary Seng and the rest of those who were detained for standing up against injustice and tyranny. We challenge the court and other supposedly democratic institutions in Cambodia to prove that there is still some civic space and rule of law left in the country by standing up against the dictatorial regime of Hun Sen.”

Photo of Theary
Theary joining a regional transitional justice peace and solidarity mission to Marawi city commemorating the Marawi siege in 2019

Theary Seng, along with other activists and prominent leaders of civil society visited the Philippines in 2019 to be in solidarity with the peoples of Marawi City in Mindanao and has joined a regional dialogue on transitional justice hosted by IID.

In her own words in 2019 addressed to the Philippine civil society movement and the peoples of Marawi, Theary Seng stressed the relevance of justice to peace advocacy in the region. She said, “Justice must include fairness and truth. Justice with fairness and truth leads to peace, a peace that is more than the absence of conflict. Truth is a pre-condition of justice.” 

Theary Seng describes herself as a ''daughter of the killing fields'' who survived the four-year genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge that took the lives of approximately one-fourth of the country’s population in the late 1970s, including her parents.   

Gus Miclat, IID’s executive director raised the alarm to the ASEAN saying that the regional bloc and its member-states should exert more pressure on Hun Sen’s government to immediately reverse the decision of the court and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Theary Seng and other opposition figures.

Miclat stressed, “ASEAN should not allow Hun Sen and his mock courts to ignore human rights and democracy and run Cambodia as a garrison state. ASEAN and its member states should waste no time acting on Cambodia and demand accountability for the crimes Hun Sen and his anti-democracy government committed against the peoples of Cambodia on a regular basis.”

Of those convicted in a mass trial, 27 are in exile and were tried in absentia. IID and GPPAC-WGEC said that Hun Sen’s 37 years in power will disprove ASEAN’s claim that the regional bloc strives to become a caring and sharing ASEAN community that respects and upholds human rights and democratic ideals and principles. 

Miclat said, ''Hun Sen is the longest-serving Prime Minister in the world and now marks his almost 37 years in power. Something is fundamentally wrong with democracy in Cambodia and the international community should not turn a blind eye to this. Let us not also wonder why Cambodia as chair of the ASEAN, under Hun Sen has not made any significant progress to address the issue in Myanmar.” He further explained, “Backsliding democracy and shrinking civic space involving ASEAN member-states like Myanmar, The Philippines, and now Cambodia are worrying political trends that merit global attention. ASEAN is fast becoming a ‘dictators’ club’ and something must be done to correct this pattern. A policy that promotes zero-tolerance on anti-democratic practices by governments should be put in place.

Hungarian WGEC member Balazs Kovacs pointed out that “Few things undermine peace more effectively than when the state denies the right to dissent. Our friend, Theary Seng, practised her right to express her political opinion with the aim to make the lives of her countrymen and women better. For this, she should be respected, not imprisoned. We demand her release and restitution.”

IID and GPPAC-WGEC concluded, “Along with the international community, we stand in strongest solidarity with human rights and democracy defenders in Cambodia in their quest for genuine democracy and peace. Let this loudest noise of our solidarity be heard by dictators like Hun Sen. Today, we demand the immediate restoration of democracy in Cambodia.''

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