Cambodian court orders seizure of former opposition HQ

In this June 14, 2016, photo, supporters rally outside the headquarters of the Cambodian National Rescue Party in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A court in Cambodia has ordered the seizure of the CNRP headquarters, which was dissolved last November after a ruling that it was involved in trying to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A court in Cambodia has ordered the seizure of the headquarters of the country's former opposition party, which was dissolved last November after a ruling that it was involved in trying to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

A lawyer for Hun Sen said Tuesday that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that the headquarters of the Cambodian National Rescue Party be seized because the party's former leader, Sam Rainsy, failed to pay a $1 million judgment against him for defaming Hun Sen as well as compensation to another ruling party leader. Sam Rainsy is the owner of the property.

The case is generally seen as part of an intense push by Hun Sen's government and his Cambodian People's Party to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of a general election in July. The court system is considered politicized and normally rules in the government's favor.

The United States says it will suspend or curtail several aid programs to Cambodia, citing setbacks to democracy in the nation. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says that after a review conducted after Cambodia's Senate elections, the U.S. will suspend or curtail several Treasury, international development and military assistance programs.

Sanders says the review was conducted to ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds are not supporting anti-democratic behavior.

Sam Rainsy, who has been in self-imposed exile since late 2015 to avoid being jailed in a separate defamation case, was convicted in December in connection with a Facebook post in which he accused Hun Sen of offering $1 million to a political operative to attack the opposition.

Ky Tech, a defense lawyer for Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, said the property would be returned to Sam Rainsy if he pays the compensation ordered by the courts: $1 million to Hun Sen and $62,500 to Heng Samrin. Sam Rainsy, against whom several other criminal cases are either pending or underway, also has been ordered to pay a $2,500 fine to the government.

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