PHNOM PENH - A Cambodian court has sentenced 13 people to up to nine years in prison on treason charges denounced by rights campaigners as a "concocted" smear campaign against the opposition.
The accused, including a refugee in Denmark, were convicted yesterday of plotting to overthrow the government through their Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) - a previously unknown group.
Only seven of the defendants - three of whom were Buddhist monks at the time of their arrest in neighbouring Thailand last year - attended the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the verdict.
The other six were sentenced in absentia, including KNLF chairman Sam Serey who lives in Denmark.
Sam Serey was sentenced to nine years in jail, while the others were handed sentences ranging from five to eight years.
"The main goal of the KNLF is to create armed forces to oppose the government," Judge Seng Neang said.
He said members of the group - who are not well known in Cambodia - had used anti-government leaflets and planned to explode bombs at state institutions.
The US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on the eve of the verdict that the Cambodian authorities had no credible evidence against the group, describing the charges as "politically motivated".
"Prime Minister Hun Sen announced before last July's elections that a plot to violently overthrow the government had been broken up, seemingly intending to tar the opposition with the brush of violent extremism," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
"The evidence presented in court makes clear this plot was concocted and that the charges should be dropped," Mr Adams added.
Mr Hun Sen, 61, faces mounting criticism over crackdowns on demonstrations intended to challenge his authoritarian leadership.