Lawmakers from Cambodia’s opposition Sam Rainsy Party have requested that the country’s king pardon their leader after he lost an appeal of a two-year jail sentence for uprooting markers at the border with Vietnam in 2009.
In a March 18 letter, several opposition MPs urged King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon party chief Sam Rainsy, who lost his final appeal and was stripped of his seat in Parliament last week.
"The absence of Sam Rainsy in the leadership of the second biggest political party in the kingdom of Cambodia will affect the development of a democratic and multiparty system," lawmakers wrote in the letter, obtained by AFP.
Rainsy has been living in France and was tried in absentia. His lawyer maintains that the case against him was politically motivated.
Lawmaker and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) spokesperson Yim Sovann claimed that Cambodia’s court, parliament, and other state institutions are controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“All the decisions are influenced by the CPP. None of the state institutions are capable of independently making a decision regarding political conflict. Therefore, only the institution of the King acts independently, and the SRP hopes that he will take this issue into consideration.”
Phai Siphan, secretary of state for the Council Ministry and government spokesperson, said he would not speak specifically about Sam Rainsy’s case because the court had already issued a verdict, but added that Cambodian law had limitations on how an individual could pursue a pardon.
“One must look at the law. The law says a [convicted] person must first serve his sentence for a certain period of time before an institution can ask the King to grant a pardon.”
Targeting a rival
If Rainsy returns to Cambodia, he faces a total of 12 years in jail. In a separate case, a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison late last year for publishing what it said was a deliberately falsified map of the border with Vietnam.
He has frequently spoken out against what he has described as Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian territory.
Rainsy’s party and a number of rights groups say he has been targeted by the courts in order to prevent him from running for the position of prime minister in Cambodia’s national election in 2013.
He is seen as the main rival to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who came to power in 1985 and says he plans to rule the country for the next 30 years.
Pardons in Cambodia are usually granted by the king following an official request from the prime minister, but Hun Sen has said that he would not support one for Rainsy.
After losing his latest appeal, Rainsy expressed confidence in a favorable resolution of his case ahead of the election and called for a “political solution” between his party and the government.
“There must be a political solution, as I have experienced cases like this many times before.”
“The government has used the courts to pressure me, but ultimately there will be a solution,” he said.
Reported by Den Ayouthea for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.