A royal pardon request by the opposition party’s top leaders, calling on King Norodom Sihamoni to expunge charges against its members and imprisoned activists, has been swatted away by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
According to documents also released by local media, Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy and acting president Kem Sokha sent the joint letter on October 8, the day after a rare message by Sihamoni, calling on parliamentarians to “respect human rights” and adhere to the “principle of multi-party democracy”, was read to the National Assembly.
Noting the King’s remarks – which also called on lawmakers to “solve problems”, decide upon a “joint target”, and work “step by step” – the CNRP leaders asked Sihamoni to intervene.
They called for a royal pardon and charges to be dropped for “human rights activists, land activists, environmental activists, the deputy general secretary of the National Election Committee and CNRP activists and leaders”.
On October 11, King Sihamoni forwarded the request to Prime Minister Hun Sen “to look at”.
In response, Hun Sen called the cases a matter for law enforcement and suggested it would be improper to intervene. “I believe that the strengthening and promotion of the rule of law through proper and effective law enforcement is a necessity and the key to help ensure good order in the country,” he wrote.
Both Rainsy and Sokha currently face jail sentences in cases widely considered political. The former is in self-exile abroad and the latter is holed-up at party headquarters to avoid arrest.
Rights group Licadho characterises 27 people currently in jail, including several CNRP figures, as political prisoners. While the premier often cites the courts’ purported independence when accused of meddling in the judiciary, critics have long accused him of leaning on the courts to target political opponents.
He has, in the past, arranged royal pardons as part of political deals, including the agreement that allowed Rainsy to return from self-imposed exile in 2013 to contest the national election.
However, he has since maintained he would cut off his arm before granting the CNRP president another.
Reached yesterday, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan maintained any royal pardon would be contrary to procedure. But CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the cases were clearly political and thus needed a political solution. “The world, citizens and the CNRP all understand this is politically motivated . . . it must be solved by political negotiations,” he said.
Speaking yesterday, Prince Sisowath Thomico said that though the recent request stood little chance of success, the King’s “rare” comments were interesting.
“It is the first time he has mentioned respect for human rights and the multiparty democracy,” Thomico said.
“I think he tries to convey a message, but to which purpose . . . in order to ease the tension? It could be interpreted as a way.”