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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opposition activists finally released on bail

Opposition activists finally released on bail

Rights groups have claimed the trio are political pawns being used as government leverage over the CNRP

Three opposition youth activists detained in Prey Sar prison since August 2 and denied family visits were finally released on bail yesterday, weeks after Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders first said they were in talks with the ruling party to secure their release.

The CNRP youths had been denied bail on August 7 at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but the Appeal Court yesterday morning ordered their release on bail of 10 million riel ($2,500) each, an unusually high sum according to their lawyer.

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Rights groups have claimed the trio are political pawns being used by the Cambodian People’s Party for continued leverage over the opposition, which ended a longstanding boycott of parliament on July 22 after a political agreement was reached.

Soon after their arrest, the CNRP had said party leader Sam Rainsy was negotiating for their release, invoking the “spirit” of political reconciliation. But until yesterday, such efforts had proved unsuccessful.

“Based on the hearings and after seriously considering this penal case in accordance with the law, the Appeal Court has decided that it should allow them to temporarily stay outside detention, as is their request,” presiding judge Seng Sivutha said yesterday.

Kheun Chamreoun, 32, the head of CNRP youth in Phnom Penh; San Kim Heng, 32, a district youth leader; and Neang Sokhoun, 28, a district treasurer; have all been charged with inciting and instigating violence and leading an insurrectional movement, according to court documents.

The serious charges, the latter of which could see them sentenced to decades in prison, relate to an opposition-led protest at Freedom Park on July 15 that saw clashes between party supporters and security forces.

Similar charges were laid against eight opposition officials who were arrested in the aftermath of that demonstration but released on July 22 just hours after the political deal.

The court does not appear to be pursuing the charges against seven of those officials, who have since been granted parliamentary immunity by officially swearing in as lawmakers. But the eighth detainee, youth activist Oeur Narith, was questioned last week.

Another CNRP official, Meach Sovannara, was hit with the same charges last week and has been summonsed for questioning September 2. Several other party youth have also been summonsed to court in coming days in connection with the same protest.

After being granted bail yesterday, Sokhoun said he was pleased with the decision.

“But for this case, I am only a victim of false accusations and arrest from police. I am an innocent person, and I did not commit anything as accused,” he said.

Sam Sokong, the group’s lawyer, questioned why the bail requested had been a much larger sum than usual. He speculated it was because the case is “political”.

“It has seriously affected them and their families, because they are all poor. They cannot find the money, so they will have to borrow money from other people to pay the court,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, a senior monitor at rights group Licadho, said the charges should be dropped, calling them “baseless”.

This version corrects the dollar conversion amount for the detainees' bail.
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