PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia jailed a political analyst for 1-1/2 years on Thursday, for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party of orchestrating the 2016 murder of a prominent government critic.
The sentence is the latest blow to Cambodia’s opposition, which has accused the government of intimidating its activists and using the judiciary to silence critics ahead of a general election next year.
Kim Sok, 36, was found guilty of defamation and incitement over a Radio Free Asia interview he gave in February, in which he accused Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of being behind the July 2016 murder of government critic Kem Ley.
“Kim Sok’s accusations affected the dignity and cleanliness of the CPP,” the judge, Ky Rithy, said in reading the verdict, which was interrupted intermittently by a defiant Kim Sok who refused to stand in the dock for sentencing.
“I don’t respect this judge who refused my request for a retrial,” Kim Sok said as four police officers forced him to stand while the sentence was read.
Tension has risen in Cambodia with members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) jailed in recent months. Rights groups have said they fear a surge in political violence in the run-up to the 2018 general election.
Kem Ley, a frequent critic of Hun Sen, was murdered in the capital Phnom Penh in July 2016. His family fled abroad soon after, saying they feared for their safety.
In June, the CNRP complained of a deliberate smear campaign by the ruling CPP, after the CNRP made significant gains in local elections.
Pro-government groups had stepped up attacks on many of the newly elected officials, it said.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez