A radio station owner and prominent critic of the Cambodian government was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Monday, having been accused of inciting people to take part in a secessionist plot.
Mam Sonando, 71 was arrested in July and convicted alongside 13 others, on charges of insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state as part of a plot to establish an autonomous region in the Kratie province of the country.
Rights groups have condemned the decision, arguing that the government has been trying to justify a crackdown over a land dispute which led to a teenage girl being shot dead by security forces in the province in May.
The activist, who has dual Cambodian-French citizenship, was also fined 10mn riel ($2,500) by the court in Phnom Penh.
Sonando heads the Association of Democrats campaign, and has broadcast numerous programmes which have been deemed critical of the government through his radio station, Beehive Radio.
President Hun Sen gave a speech in June in which he said that Sonando should be arrested for planning “a plot to overthrow the government and attempting to establish a state within a state.”
As he left the court, Sonando who was arrested previously in 2003 and 2005 said: “I am happy that I have helped the nation.”
His wife Din Phanara told the media they would appeal the sentence.
The decision has been widely condemned by international media and rights organisations.
President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Ou Viral told AFP: “Our court has announced a verdict that is politically motivated. There's no evidence that Mam Sonando has committed these offences."
Amnesty International has described Sonando as a prisoner of conscience, and the group's researcher Rupert Abbott declared the verdict “absolutely outrageous.”
Arguing that Sonando has been jailed merely for exercising his right to free expression, Abbott said: “We consider Mam Sonando to be a prisoner of conscience and will be campaigning for his release.”
The European Union said that the verdict “raises severe doubts about the impartiality and independence of the court” and expressed “serious concern” over the decision.