Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday that opposition leader Kem Sokha will not be released from detention despite hitting the 18-month maximum allowed by law in pre-trial detention, a move denounced by the opposition as a violation of the constitution.
Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha was arrest in September 2017 for alleged acts of “treason” and the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the CNRP two months later, which paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in a July 2018 general election.
On Sunday, the 18-month mark in Kem Sokha’s detention, the CNRP issued a statement renewing its call for Hun Sen regime to immediately and unconditionally release him.
The CNRP called Kem Sokha’s continued pre-trial detention “a conspicuous violation of the nation’s Constitution” that was entirely politically motivated.
“Kem Sokha is the symbol of positive change and non-violent struggle for freedom, respect for human rights and democracy in Cambodia,” the CNRP said.
“Kem Sokha’s arrest and detention is purely a political motivated case, aimed at getting rid of a potential political competitor,” the party said.
The CNRP also called on the international community to take further stringent measures against Hun Sen’s government to press fully restore democracy and human rights in Cambodia.
Last week, American lawmakers introduced a bill that would require the U.S. government to review Cambodia’s preferential trade status to determine whether Cambodia’s trade privileges should be “withdrawn, suspended, or limited.” The move came several weeks after the European Union launched proceedings that could see Cambodia’s preferential access to the bloc’s market suspended.
Doubling down on his attack on the banned opposition on Monday, Hun Sen also set an ultimatum for CNRP senior officials banned from politics to “act quickly” to seek restoration of their political rights under a conditional government offer.
“The door will close before or after the Khmer New Year,” said Hun Sen, referring to a traditional holiday that falls in mid-April this year.
“The royal government has made efforts to open the door for you all. But whether you want to enter or not is your problem. Please don’t expect that there will be pardons or that any charges against anyone will be dropped,” he said at a groundbreaking ceremony for a Japanese flood control and sewage system restoration project in Phnom Penh
“Your political rights are banned. If you dare break (the ban), I will handcuff you,” said the strongman, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly 34 years.
When Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, it also slapped a five-year ban on the political activities of 118 of its senior officials for the party’s role in an alleged plot to topple the government.
In December, Hun Sen’s Constitutional Council unanimously approved an amendment to the draft law on political parties, paving the way for the reinstatement of rights to the 118 CNRP officials banned from politics by the Supreme Court’s decision.
The legislation does not provide for the reestablishment of the CNRP, and Hun Sen has said the political rights of the officials will only be reinstated on an individual basis if they had “shown respect for the Supreme Court’s ruling,” and provided they each make an individual request.
So far only former CNRP official Sim Sovanny, Kong Koam, the former president of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), and his son Kong Bora, a former senior official with the CNRP, have requested and received royal pardons.
“It appears that not many applied for the restoration of their political rights, and Hun Sen is furious,” said CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An.
“What Hun Sen is just saying is just a trick to sew division in the CNRP,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“Kem Sokha should be released first to pave the way for negotiation,” added Um Sam an.
Political analyst Ly Srey Sros said Hun Sen announcement setting a deadline undercut Cambodia’s claims to be a country with the rule of law.
“It appears that our leader has power above the stipulated law. We know that in the amendment for restoring political rights, there is no clause setting a deadline for applying to have political rights restored,” she told RFA.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.