Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday poured cold water on the prospect of negotiating the release of 11 imprisoned opposition activists, hours after the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s deputy president visited the group and suggested the two parties would compromise through “the culture of dialogue”.
CNRP acting president Kem Sokha predicted the men – including US citizen Meach Sovannara – who were sentenced to between seven and 20 years in prison for “insurrection” over a protest turned violent in Phnom Penh last July, would be released “soon”.
Speaking outside Prey Sar prison after visiting the group, Sokha said they had strong grounds for appeal, given most were not legally represented during the verdict.
CNRP lawyers confirmed yesterday that an appeal would soon be launched.
Sokha also pointed to the “spirit” of the political deal struck between the opposition and ruling party last year to end the CNRP’s boycott of parliament and the current detente with Prime Minister Hun Sen, dubbed the “culture of dialogue”, as other reasons for hope.
“Both parties have said they still keep the spirit of the [July 22] agreement, so that means the [11 activists] can still be released according to this spirit,” Sokha said, adding the earlier release of seven CNRP lawmakers held on the same “insurrection” charges was evidence of political compromise.
However, although Sokha confirmed he was in contact with Interior Minister Sar Kheng to arrange talks, Prime Minster Hun Sen yesterday denied the government would compromise.
Confirming he had been approached by the CNRP to discuss the case, Hun Sen “implored” the opposition not to “provoke” matters further.
“Let the court resolve [the case] . . . Politics are politics, the law is the law,” the prime minister said, speaking at a ceremony for chief monk Non Nget’s birthday at Wat Botum pagoda.
Also speaking yesterday, Sam Sokong, among the groups’ lawyers, said that an appeal would be lodged on Wednesday, objecting to both the verdict and the sentencing of the men without legal
Sokong flagged plans to lodge complaints with other institutions over Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s “illegal” verdict, but didn’t elaborate.