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Cambodian Opposition Leader Formally Charged with Treason

The president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, arrives at a campaign rally in Phnom Penh, June 2, 2017.

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha has been formally charged with treason, and is facing a jail sentence between 15 to 30 years in jail if convicted.

A court in the capital, Phnom Penh, announced Tuesday that the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party is accused of secretly colluding with a foreign entity to undermine the government.

Sokha was arrested Sunday during a raid on his home, along with his bodyguards, according to a tweet by his daughter, Kem Monovithya. The government said it arrested Sokha based on his comments in a video broadcast by the private Cambodian Broadcasting Network, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Video sparks arrest

In the video, which dates back to 2013, Sokha claims he has received help from the United States to build a pro-democracy movement in Cambodia.

A post on his Twitter feed Monday said “I may lose my freedom, but may freedom never die in Cambodia.”

Sokha's arrest was carried out amid a massive government crackdown against independent news outlets and human rights groups, including the closure of more than a dozen radio stations and the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. government-funded NGO.

Newspaper closed

The most notable closure occurred on Monday, when The Cambodia Daily, one of the last independent newspapers in the country, published its last edition under the headline “Descent Into Outright Dictatorship.” The publishers say a $6.3 million overdue tax bill, which they say is bogus, forced them to shut down operations.

The crackdown is an apparent attempt by autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen to shut down dissenting voices ahead of next year's elections with the aim of extending his three-decade-old grip on power.

Hun Sen's government was nearly toppled in the last national elections in 2013, and support is growing for the opposition, especially among younger Cambodians.