Will former Cambodian MP Mu Sochua have the right to attend her own trial? A priori, the answer is no. The regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen in power for twenty-three years, which will judge from Thursday January 14 a hundred members of the opposition, accused in particular of “Treason”, dampened the hopes of the defendants who chose exile: their Cambodian passports were canceled and those who have dual nationality will not be issued any visa. If they wish to go to court, they will have to “Find themselves a way to enter Cambodia”, government spokesman Phay Siphan smirked on Radio Free Asia.
A handful of opponents in exile had announced, in December 2020, their intention to return to the country, three years after having fled to avoid prison. Originally scheduled for January 4, their trip was postponed after the cancellation of the flight that was to take them from Los Angeles to Phnom Penh, via Taiwan. “We then scheduled our return on January 17th, explains Mu Sochua. But we still need to restore the validity of our passports, which is a right for any citizen. If we manage to return, we will no doubt be arrested, but we are supported by our activists. ”
The Hun Sen regime, which dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party in 2017, is trying by all means to divide the opposition, which is very popular among the younger generation. Inside the country, its supporters are targeted by fierce repression. Its most prominent members, exiles, are kept at bay and even seem to have been banned from neighboring countries. In November 2019, the historical opponent Sam Rainsy, who had announced that he wanted to return to Cambodia by land from Thailand, was thus refused, at Roissy, access to the plane that was to take him to Bangkok.
The Phnom Penh trial, organized in two phases, should therefore begin without its main defendants. But not all who appear are anonymous, and the figure of Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer, could prove embarrassing to the government. This human rights activist, a former civil party in the trial against the former Khmer Rouge leaders, refused to go into exile. Today, she seems determined to demonstrate the unfairness of the proceedings against her: “This is not a real trial, but a political staging in which actors play the roles of judges and prosecutors, with a script already written”, she declares.