KING Norodom Sihanouk has appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen for the pardon of Sok Yoeun, an opposition political activist accused of an assassination attempt on the premier in 1998.
Sok Yoeun is scheduled to be extradited to Cambodia after a Thai court turned down an appeal on November 28. He remains in Thai custody.
A pardon is usually given to someone already convicted of a crime. The King’s request, which came on December 3, puts the government in the awkward position of pardoning someone who has not yet been tried or even indicted.
Officials said they would wait and see whether charges were filed.
“Now, Sok Yoeun is not a criminal,” said Khieu Kanharith, a spokesman for the government. “Police accused him of attempting to kill Hun Sen, so we invited him for questioning. If it is true, we will send him to court. If not, we will release him.”
Om Yienteng, an adviser to Hun Sen, said he didn’t know when Sok Yoeun was expected to arrive in Cambodia. He tried to put an innocuous face on the extradition.
“We welcome Sok Yoeun back to the country because he is Khmer,” he said.
“I think that people who criticise the government should respect the sovereignty of Cambodia.”
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), Amnesty International and a coalition of other NGOs have called the assassination allegations unfounded and politically motivated.
They accused Hun Sen of targeting Sok Yoeun, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, in order to link the opposition leader to the case.
“If Cambodia and Thailand implement this extradition, it will continue to highlight the political nature of the extradition process and the assassination charges against him,” said Adhoc President Thun Saray.
“In accordance with international law, and for humanitarian reasons, this man should be freed immediately to be reunited with his family.”