Cambodian deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison and fined 800,000 riel (200,000 dollars) on Friday for failing to appear at an earlier corruption trial.
Sokha's conviction was handed down in a nearly empty courtroom. Sokha and his lawyer both boycotted the proceeding, which took about 10 minutes.
"We consider the whole proceeding is contrary to the constitution, it is completely illegal and there is no basis for the trial. It just shows that the government is using the courts as a tool to maintain their grip on power," Prince Sisowath Thomico, a high-ranking member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), told dpa.
Sokha has been embroiled in a prostitution case since March in what is widely seen as a politically motivated prosecution. Cambodia’s court system is not considered independent by many outside observers, and was highlighted as a major source of corruption in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Index.
With a criminal conviction, Sokha could be kicked out of the National Assembly, Cambodia’s parliament, which would also strip him of his parliamentary immunity.
Sokha’s prosecution follows tension in Cambodia, as the two major parties prepare for 2017 rural elections and the 2018 national election. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party has held power since 1998, but faces a growing challenge from the urban and youth-dominated CNRP.
Sokha, the CNRP's vice president, has been sequestered in the Cambodian National Rescue Headquarters since May 26, but made a rare appearance on Friday to rally supporters before the trial.