A Cambodian American Civil Rights Lawyer Theary C. Seng and 67 others Face Trials for Treason in Cambodia on Thanksgiving Day

Two prominent figures charged for treason include Theary C. Seng, a Cambodian American civil rights lawyer and His Excellency Thach Setha, former Cambodian Parliamentary Senator –a Khmer Krom native from Preah Trapeang Province, Kampuchea Krom.

His Excellency Thach Setha

Updated: 11/26/2020 Hours at 12:44 p.m.

By Soben Pin

Updated record shows the number of people summoned to court for treason are as many as 140 people, many are CNRP members. Two prominent figures charged for treason include Theary C. Seng, a Cambodian American civil rights lawyer and His Excellency Thach Setha, former Cambodia Parliamentary Senator (1996-2015) who is from Preah Trapeang Province, Kampuchea Krom or “Lower Cambodia” annexed by Vietnam in 1954, today known as Tra Vinh Province. Over 60 people appeared in court today and they were divided into two groups for their trial dates. Theary’s court date was moved to January 14, 2021. H.E. Thach Setha’s court date moved to March 4th, 2021.

Theary C. Seng gives interview to media outside of Phnom Penh court 11/26/2020

A Cambodian American Civil Rights Lawyer Theary C. Seng and 67 others Face Trials for Treason in Cambodia on Thanksgiving Day

By Soben Pin /// Published 11/26/2020 at 1 AM

In the midst of a U.S. election chaos, on November 4th, 2020, the Cambodian authority ordered 67 political activists to stand trial for treason today at 8 pm — U.S. Eastern time, or Thursday 8 am Thanksgiving Day in Cambodia. This includes mostly former CNRP members, but also includes Theary C. Seng, a Cambodian American civil rights lawyer, known as one of the most outspoken rights activists against Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government.

Human rights in Cambodia has rapidly worsened over the past three years, after the dissolution of the opposition party— the CNRP which had 55 members elected in the National Assembly. In the 2018 election, Cambodia’s ruling party, the CPP has become a one party ruling state.

Since then, the regime has shutdown the free press such as the Cambodia Daily newspaper, Radio Free Asia, and Voice of Democracy; then arrested journalists, rights activists for peaceful demonstrations, and others for Facebook postings which resulted in 55 people jailed for politically motivated charges. It has been a systematic suppression of many Cambodian activists and civil society, but no one foresaw this large summon all at once around this holiday.

Cambodian American civil society has started a petition in late summer with regards to the arrest of union leader Rong Chhun and 14 other youth activists and urged their congress members and senators to take action.

Because everyone has been busy with the U.S. election, a joint letter from two Massachusetts senators, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, Senator Dianne Feinstein from California, House of Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Lori Trahan, Seth Moulton, and Ted Yoho was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the election. The letter, dated November 16, urged Secretary Pompeo to coordinate efforts to put more pressure on the Cambodian government after 55 arrests; however, they were not aware of the new cases. The news did not reach the U.S. government because the U.S has been pre-occupied with the election. All news channels were focused on the neck-to-neck race, and the presidential victory which was not declared until 5 days after the election.

The Cambodian government wasted no time. 68 people were charged with conspiracy of treason on November 4th (on U.S. election day); paper notices were posted at the closed CNRP headquarters on November 14th. Some people received their notice in person, others through announcement in the media. Meanwhile U.S. Congress members and Senators were preparing a letter in respond to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government based on the latest information from Human Rights Watch which reported 55 individuals are political prisoners as of October—now, there could be as many more than 100 people going to prison as the trial starts on Thanksgiving day as more people received summons. “We know that this is not about law. If this was about law, due process was violated all over the place, the case should have been dismissed on that simple ground. But this is political and it’s about power play” Theary C. Seng said. “It’s a show trial and I am prepared to go to prison, and let’s remember that this isn’t about me, let’s think of others who are in this situation and have less means than me to defend themselves and lift them up in our prayers”.

With this fast development, while President-Elect Joe Bidden was working on making his transition, and as President Trump is still contesting the election results with lawsuits using baseless claims and having them thrown out in many states; Prime Minister Hun Sen is also using his court to get rid of the opposition party members, including former Senator Thach Setha who was elected and served from 1996 to 2015. He is among those currently ordered to stand trial for treason.

His Excellency Thach Setha said regarding the court “it’s like in Khmer Rouge era, they round up people for treason, then use their court to eliminate them. I was accused of treason. I asked now who have I conspired to commit treason for?”

Theary C. Seng, as a U.S. citizen, requested U.S. Ambassador Patrick Murphy to appear in court, she believed that will speak volumes and Prime Minister Hun Sen may change his course. Khmer Post USA called the U.S. Ambassador’s office in Phnom Penh to see if he will attend the trial but was not able to reach him for comments.

Jared Genser, a well known international human rights lawyer, represents Theary C. Seng pro bono sent out an urgent action appeal on Monday to the United Nations special rapporteur — there has been no response because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Beej Das, U.S. Constitutional lawyer and Theary C. Seng’s former classmate at Michigan Law School said “any Cambodian descendent should be up-in-arms about Cambodia right now, even people who support the regime should be concerned when free speech is no longer free. When this happens, it never has a good ending for any country”.

In an interview with Khmer Post USA, Jared said “I will spare no efforts if Theary is detained to make sure her story is known by people around the world. What she is going through. Make sure we go after him and his cronies through target sanctions, assets freeze, to make him and his regime accountable, obviously ultimately to secure Theary’s release, and to highlight the broader human rights situation in Cambodia with the goal to force him to relent and step back from the oppression”.

“Talking about treason. He [Prime Minister Hun Sen] should be charged with treason, because treason is to sell the soul of a nation for foreigners” Theary said.

In October, Cambodia King Norodom Sihamoni spent an extensive amount of time in China after Prime Minister Hun Sen introduced his son, Hun Manet, a current top general of Cambodia military, to Chinese president Xi. As has been shown in recent months, Prime Minister Hun Sen chose to look to China and ignored the United States and the European Union. It should be noted that Cambodia owes more $500 million in U.S. loans under the 1970-75 Lon Nol government, and $1.5 billion of debt to Russia during the Vietnamese 1979-89 occupation. In contrast China has forgiven debts incurred during the Khmer Rouge era 1975-79. More recently, China has a footing in Cambodia building an airport and businesses. While Cambodia policies has aligned with China on the surface and overlooked by the international community, Prime Minister Hun Sen is working on fulfilling the 2005 treaty with Vietnam, in which he ignored and violated the international 1991 Paris Peace Agreement Accords on Cambodia. In recent months, Vietnam border posts were reportedly moved into Cambodian land and the villagers reported their lost of lands. Mr. Rong Chhun and his supporters were arrested and jailed for speaking up about the border issue with Vietnam.