LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Cambodian government imprisoned and tortured a man in its "systemic and long-standing campaign of persecution and torture," he and his family claim in court.
Meach Sovannara and his wife and three children sued The Royal Kingdom of Cambodia and Hun Manet, who is deputy chief of staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, vice-commander of the prime minister's bodyguard unit, and director of the Anti-Terrorism Department of the Armed Forces, on Friday in Federal Court.
"This case is really about democracy and how the democratic process would be viewed by countries wanting to remain viable on the international stage," his attorney Nazareth Haysbert told Courthouse News.
"Many people are jailed simply for speaking their minds and protesting government corruption. When our client did it, they threw him in prison and literally threw away the keys. It was not necessary, what they did to him."
Sovannara is still in prison. Haysbert said the lawsuit seeks to win his release and the release of other political prisoners in Cambodia.
The attorney takes particular issue with the fact that Hun Manet, a known violator of international human rights law, is allowed to visit the United States "as if nothing is amiss."
"He shouldn't be allowed to roam freely in the U.S," Haysbert said.
Nor should he be allowed to call himself a West Point graduate, he added. When asked if West Point is able to revoke degrees, Haysbert said he was not sure, but "that should be on the table. Why consider him a West Point graduate?"
In the 39-page lawsuit, Sovannara says his ordeal began when he was arrested for "insurrection" for helping organize and attend a July 15, 2014 demonstration at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, the national capital.
"In the aftermath of the Cambodian national elections held on July 28, 2013, the CPP [Cambodian People's Party] engaged in a violent crackdown on worker rights protests, land eviction demonstrations, and protests related to the manipulation and stealing of the national election by Hun Sen's CPP party," the complaint states.
Hun Sen is president of the CPP and prime minister of Cambodia. He is not named as a defendant.
Several international observers and human rights groups denounced the elections as rigged to let Hun Sen maintain his chokehold on the country.
A year later, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party organized a demonstration to protest the fairness of the elections at Freedom National Park, near the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh.
Sovannara attended the demonstration as media director and chief spokesman for the party, and "his subsequent arrest, prosecution and long-term incarceration was based on his participation in that protest demonstration."
Roughly four months after the demonstration, Sovannara was arrested and charged with three crimes, including "leading an insurrection." He was sentenced to 20 years in the Prey Sar prison, "which the Cambodian government has used for many years as a site for incarcerating and torturing its critics under very harsh inhuman conditions," according to the complaint.
Human Rights Watch and other groups denounced the trial as a "kangaroo court" in which the government denied him basic due process, such as having his attorneys present, according to the complaint.
Sovannara has been held in Prey Sar prison since July 21, 2015, "suffering very harsh, severe and violent treatment that has seriously and adversely affected his health and well-being, and that has endangered his life."