PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian court on Friday sentenced opposition leader Kem Sokha to five months in jail in absentia amid what activists say is a crackdown on critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of local and general elections.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Sokha, 63, guilty of failing to appear in court as a witness in a case against two MPs from his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) accused of procuring a prostitute for him.
Hundreds of Sokha’s supporters clashed briefly with police outside the court as police tried to remove banners and loudspeakers proclaiming Sokha’s innocence.
Tension has risen as other opposition members have been charged and jailed. On July 10, Kem Ley, a prominent activist and frequent critic of Hun Sen, was murdered in the capital Phnom Penh and Ley’s family have fled abroad fearing for their safety.
Sokha and his lawyers boycotted the trial on Friday, arguing that his immunity from prosecution as an elected MP was still in place.
Sokha, who has been holed up at the CNRP headquarters to avoid arrest for months, said on Friday that Hun Sen was using the judiciary to prevent him standing in local and general elections in 2017 and 2018.
“This is an attack on a multiparty democracy as guaranteed in Cambodia’s constitution,” Sokha said in a rare public speech since taking refuge at the CNRP headquarters on May 6.
Hun Sen and his government have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Editing by Nick Macfie