Cambodian court upholds prison term for opposition senator

AP News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2017 6:43 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian appeals court on Thursday upheld a seven-year prison sentence given to an opposition senator for comments on his Facebook page criticizing a 1979 border agreement with neighboring Vietnam.

The lawyer for Hong Sok Hour said that because of poor health, his client did not appear in court for the hearing that rejected his appeal.

Hong Sok Hour was found guilty in November 2015 of falsifying public documents, using fake documents and inciting chaos. His defense had been that he merely reposted documents he found online that turned out to contain inaccurate translations.

The case marked the beginning of a concerted campaign by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party to cripple opposition politicians by using the courts to get them into legal trouble. The two top leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were later targets, with its chief, Sam Rainsy, effectively marginalized with a threat to imprison him on an old conviction keeping him in self-imposed exile. He was eventually forced to resign from his party because his legal troubles put it at risk of dissolution under a new law.

Cambodian courts are considered by many critics to be under the influence of the ruling party, an allegation they deny.

Nationwide local elections this month confirmed the dominance of Hun Sen's party, but a strong showing by the opposition boosted its prospects for next year's general election.

Hong Sok Hour was arrested in August 2015 after Hun Sen accused him of treason for the online posting, which included the purported text of a 1979 treaty with Vietnam that declared that their mutual border would be dissolved. Hun Sen, who was foreign minister in 1979 in a government installed by a Vietnamese occupation force that invaded Cambodia to oust the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, insisted the treaty was forged.

Sam Rainsy was found guilty in absentia of conspiracy to incite chaos and using and falsifying public documents after the material that Hong Sok Hour had posted suggesting that Hun Sen's government had signed a treaty ceding territory to neighboring Vietnam was also posted on his Facebook page.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party had been seeking political benefit by accusing Vietnam of encroaching on Cambodian soil, a politically sensitive topic that has ramped up tensions along the border because many Cambodians harbor suspicions about their bigger eastern neighbor, Cambodia's traditional enemy.

Hun Sen has been in power for three decades, and while Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents.