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Jailed Cambodian American activist is allowed to meet with lawyer

A Cambodian American democracy activist jailed in Cambodia on treason charges has been allowed to meet with her lawyer after being transferred last week from the capital to a prison farther north, a move that supporters had feared would isolate her from lawyers and friends, RFA has learned.

Now serving a six-year prison term, Theary Seng was sentenced on June 14 together with 50 other activists for their association with the Cambodia National Rescue Party, a group opposing long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen that was banned by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017.

The charges against the activists stem from abortive efforts in 2019 to bring about the return to Cambodia of CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who has been living in exile in France to avoid convictions in court cases described by his supporters as politically motivated.

Theary Seng, who holds citizenship both in Cambodia and the United States, was arrested June 14 while protesting outside the courthouse against the trial that convicted her, and began serving her sentence the same day at Prey Sar Prison in the capital Phnom Penh. Prison authorities later confirmed to RFA that she was then transferred to Preah Vihear Prison in the country’s far north.

Blocked by authorities from meeting Theary Seng while she was held in Prey Sar, lawyer Choung Chou Ngy told RFA on Thursday he was recently able to meet his client for about two hours in her new prison, where she said authorities check her health every day.

“Around 10 women are being held with her in her cell,” Ngy said. “I told her that people are speaking positively about her on social media, and she said she was grateful for their support. We also discussed details of her case she didn’t know about because of her arrest.”

Theary Seng then asked him to file an appeal in her case, which he will submit to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of Appeal in the next few days, Ngy said.

Theary Seng denies the charges of treason made against her, Ngy added. “She said that she has only demanded and fought for respect for human rights and democracy in the interests of society as a whole, and she is being silenced because of her advocacy work.”

Also speaking to RFA, Ny Sokha — president of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc — said that Theary Seng should be immediately released.

“If the Cambodian government continues to harass and arrest political party activists, this will not look good for Cambodia’s future. More international sanctions will likely be imposed if the situation with human rights is not improved, especially before the next election,” he said.

The European Parliament in May adopted a resolution calling on the Cambodian government to stop persecuting and intimidating political opponents, trade unionists, human rights defenders and journalists ahead of local elections in June and national campaigns next year.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party led by Hun Sen is now five years into a no-holds-barred crackdown on its political opposition and civil society, jailing or driving into exile scores of opposition figures.

Translated by Sok Ry Sum for RFA Khmer. Written in English by Richard Finney.