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Opposition commune chief Seang Chet (centre) participates in a Buddhist ceremony after his release from prison yesterday.
Opposition commune chief Seang Chet (centre) participates in a Buddhist ceremony after his release from prison yesterday. Pha Lina

Commune chief freed

Opposition commune chief Seang Chet walked out of Prey Sar prison a free man yesterday morning, a day after he was issued a royal pardon borne of a deal struck by the two major political parties.

The Kampong Cham native was convicted on Monday and sentenced to five years on a bribery charge connected to acting Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha’s alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty.

The pardon came just hours after Sokha – himself recently pardoned – Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng had a meeting on the sidelines of a National Assembly session, with the latter announcing that Chet and five jailed human rights officials would be released this month.

“The big political parties have negotiated and I was released immediately,” a beaming Chet said yesterday. “I have belief that in the future, there will be negotiations to release all prisoners of conscience.”

But while happy to be free, Chet questioned the court’s procedures, which saw him convicted of giving Chandaraty’s mother about $500 – money he said came from overseas donors, and which the familiy reportedly did not accept – to supplement the loss of her daughter’s job. “I clarified to the court the reasons why it took place, but they continued to detain me. And then the court proceeded to sentence me to five years,” he said.

With Chet’s release secured, focus now shifts to the five jailed human rights officials – Adhoc staffers Lim Mony, Yi Soksan, Ny Sokha and Nay Vanda, and National Election Committee official Ny Chakrya – who are still in the investigative phase of their bribery cases.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun yesterday said there were four ways to release the jailed officials: an immediate royal pardon, a swift conviction followed by a pardon, termination of the ongoing investigation or the granting of bail. “I think that it would most likely be a pardon,” he said, adding that there was no need to wait for a conviction to issue one.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann refused to elaborate on how exactly the five would be released, but said there would likely be a conviction first.“I think their position is similar to that of Mr Kem Sokha and Seang Chet. The court will first sentence them and then they will be pardoned,” he said.

Sovann refused to comment on whether it was fair to convict the five in order to ensure a pardon. “Everyone knows that it is a politically motivated move,” he said. “I cannot comment on whether it is fair or not.”

Hem Sunrith, Nay Vanda’s lawyer, yesterday said that the municipal court, in a document dated December 7, had closed the investigation into the case against the five and would soon proceed to trial.

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