Former Cambodian opposition party lawmaker Ou Chanrath called on the government on Wednesday to free all members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party still held in the country’s jails, saying their release will pose no threat to national security.
“They should be released because they are political prisoners,” Ou Chanrath said, speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service in an interview.
“Their release will have no impact on Cambodia’s national security, and it will be in the national interest,” he said.
Ou Chanrath’s call for the prisoners’ release comes amid reports that Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice is preparing a list of more than 300 convicts’ names to be sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen, with the request that he forward the list to King Norodom Sihamoni to ask that those prisoners be pardoned or have their jail terms reduced.
That list will apply only to women who have children or are pregnant, or to convicts who are elderly or ill, however.
Speaking to reporters this week, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said that CNRP prisoners still in jail are not yet qualified for pardons or reductions in the their prison terms.
On Sept. 12, Human Rights Watch called on Hun Sen to release all political prisoners and drop all charges against them, arguing that recent releases and pardons were merely “attempts to regain international legitimacy after sham elections.”
Political prisoners profiled
The New York-based rights group issued the appeal as it launched “Political Prisoners Cambodia,” a new webpage that profiles political prisoners jailed in the country that Hun Sen has now ruled for 33 years.
He added five years to his tenure in office in July elections in which his party won every seat after he banned the CNRP, Cambodia’s only viable opposition party.
Hun Sen has made a practice of heavy-handed crackdowns on his critics, followed by a relaxation of restrictions after facing international condemnation.
In August, the Cambodian king granted a royal pardon at Hun Sen’s behest to 14 jailed CNRP activists who were serving long sentences for “insurrection” in connection with anti-government street protests in 2014 that turned into violent clashes with police and security forces.
The move followed the release on bail from pre-trial detention of former CNRP leader Kem Sokha a year after he was arrested on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated.
The 65-year-old opposition chief’s release carried the conditions that he must stay within a block radius of his home, cannot meet with CNRP officials or foreigners, and cannot join or host any rallies or political activities, his lawyer said.
Kem Sokha, who had previously been denied bail six times despite fears he was suffering from ill health, still faces up to 30 years if convicted of treason.
Denied medical treatment
Meanwhile, a former council deputy chief for Poipet commune jailed in Banteay Meanchey province on charges of “incitement to violence” has been refused permission to seek medical treatment outside of jail and is in failing health, according to his wife.
Chao Veasna, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, one of two parties that combined to form the CNRP, is suffering from fevers and other chronic conditions including skin disease, his wife Vong Kimhong told RFA’s Khmer Service in a recent interview.
“The prison has allowed other prisoners to get treatment outside jail except for my husband. This is very unfair to my family,” Vong Kimhong said.
Speaking to RFA in response, provincial correction center director Um Siphan called Vong Kimhong’s allegations unfounded, adding, “[Chao Veasna’s] health is normal, and he has been exercising.”
“If he was sick, our staff would have brought him to a hospital,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.