Theary Seng, the rebel lawyer from Phnom Penh

It is a house on stilts in a countryside area in the south-east of Phnom Penh, at the end of a stony path. Theary Seng lives there with his dog, in a rustic interior which prominently features drawings from old photos of his parents, who died under the Khmer Rouge regime. Theary Seng devoted the first part of her adult life to understanding and overcoming the trauma she suffered as a child. And the second, to try to help other Cambodians to do so – by becoming « citizens », one of the missions of the last NGO it created, Civicus.

This time, it is she, at almost 51 years old, who finds herself on the dock: the activist, who has dual Cambodian and American nationality, is one of some 150 opposition and civil society figures indicted. in 2019 for « treason » and « incitement to commit a crime ». An accusation that comes in the wake of the dissolution of the first opposition party, by the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, in power since 1985. A ban just before a series of elections to which the Cambodia National Rescue Party promised to make a good score. This crude maneuver was then condemned by all Western democracies.

Impervious to intimidation

The « daughter of the fields of death », according to the title of her autobiography published in 2005 in the United States, saw the date of her trial set for December 28. After many adventures: the first invitations, in 2019, did not reach him directly. « They wanted me to be afraid, to leave [aux Etats-Unis] », Theary Seng protests. The promised “collective trial” was cut short: some have already been tried and sentenced, then sometimes released on parole. Others, notably leaders in exile, such as Sam Rainsy, a refugee in Paris, were prevented from returning to Cambodia as they wished to be tried, but sentenced… in absentia.

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We will not put pressure on Theary Seng: she has no property – her house is rented – nor children. Determined to defend herself, to go to jail if she is not cleared of these charges, she shaved her hair before a preliminary hearing in November 2020 – in case she is jailed. At the last audience, on December 14, she was dressed in Apsara, the traditional dancer of Angkor, to underline the  » theater «  what would his trial be – sparking a great mobilization on social networks.

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