PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court on Wednesday charged three activists from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party with insurrection in connection with a protest last year that turned violent.
The move comes about a week after 11 other party members were convicted of the same offense and given prison sentences of seven to 20 years. Meng Sotheary, lawyer for the three charged Wednesday, said his clients could face up to 15 years in prison.
The court actions are seen as reflecting a new hard line by Prime Minister Hun Sen toward the opposition, with which he reached an uneasy detente on political reform to end their boycott of Parliament protesting alleged cheating by the ruling Cambodian People's Party in the last elections.
Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades, and while Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents. The country's courts are widely seen as doing the government's political bidding.
The opposition members denied instigating or taking part in the violence at a July 15, 2014, protest in support of the demands for reforms, and came a month before the government and opposition struck their deal.
At the protest, the government deployed civilian security auxiliaries armed with batons and homemade weapons to keep the protesters out of the capital's Freedom Park. Violent clashes followed, which each side claims the other initiated.
The new cases came after Hun Sen on Monday ordered more arrests in connection with the protest.
Relations between the government and the opposition have deteriorated recently as the Cambodia National Rescue Party has tried to make an issue of land encroachment by neighboring Vietnam. Alleged bullying by traditional enemy Vietnam is a volatile issue, and tensions between the two countries have heated up as a result.
The opposition party charges that the cases over the protest are a way to pressure them to drop the border issue.