Opposition Politician Urges Release of Jailed Party Activists in Cambodia

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cambodia-kem-sokha-visits-sar-prey-prison-march12-2015.jpg Kem Sokha speaks to reporters after he visits Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh, March 12, 2015.

A political settlement between Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties will unravel unless opposition party activists arrested last year for their alleged involvement in a protest that turned violent are released next month, a high-ranking member of the opposition party said Thursday.

Kem Sokha, vice president of the National Assembly (parliament) and vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said unless a court released the arrested CNRP activists in April, the two parties will not be able to reconcile their differences.

Ken Sokha said the CNRP would hold talks with the government about freeing the activists following parliament’s approval of draft laws on the National Election Committee (NEC), the body that oversees the country’s polls, and the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly.

“If we all want to be happy, all problems must be resolved,” he said. “Right now we’re focusing on the election and NEC laws, and after we finish those laws, before the [Cambodian] New Year we will have the new laws on election and NEC. After that, I hope that all political prisoners will be released….If they are not released, it means that we don’t have a compromise yet.”

Cambodian New Year falls on April 13 this year.

Kem Sokha spoke to the media on Thursday after visiting Meach Sovannara, the CNRP’s media director, at the notorious Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.

A Supreme Court judge this week shot down Meach Sovannara’s final plea for bail and decide he should remain in jail for insurrection.

CNRP members arrested

Authorities arrested Meach Sovannara and four other CNRP officials last year for “inciting violence” during a July 15 protest by party supporters that led to clashes with security forces at Freedom Park in the capital.

But Kem Sokha said authorizes arrested them because of protests following the disputed national elections in 2013 in which the NEC declared the CCP victorious, prompting opposition lawmakers  boycotted parliament for 10 months.

“Before the New Year in April, we will have new NEC and election laws, so those political prisoners must be released,” he said.

CNRP lawmakers returned to parliament following a July 22, 2014, deal with the CCP, which included electoral reforms. Under the deal, the new NEC was to consist of nine members—four from each party and one neutral member to serve as tiebreaker.

“We have stopped confronting each other in order to calm down and cooperate, and the other party [CPP] can’t let [our] party suffer,” he said. “If another party continues to suffer, we can’t say the deadlock has ended and everyone should be happy.”

He said that in order to calm down the opposition party, the CPP must release the activists.

“All parties must try to calm down,” he said. “We don’t want to have any further conflict such as arresting more activists.”

Last November, Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at critics who claimed that the arrests of the four CNRP officials for their alleged roles in a violent protest were politically motivated, saying they had committed criminal acts and must be tried according to law.

Reported by Chun Chanboth of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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