The Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) has urged the government to strengthen respect for human rights to avoid pressure from the international community, particularly in the context of Cambodia’s access to the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme.
On behalf of the party, GDP president Yeng Virak also urged the release of Kem Sokha, the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Speaking during the celebration of the 4th anniversary of the GDP’s creation on Sunday, Virak said he welcomed negotiations between Cambodia and the EU to retain the former’s EBA privileges. By doing so, he said massive job losses could be avoided.
Regarding Sokha, Virak said the opposition leader remained under house arrest since the court released him on bail in September last year.
Prior to the release, Sokha had been placed in pre-trial detention at Trapaing Thlong prison – also known as Correctional Centre 3 (CC3) – for more than a year, he said.
In November 2017, Virak said, Sokha was charged with conspiring with foreign countries and faces up to 30 years in jail if convicted.
In the same month, Sohka’s CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court on charges of attempting to carry out a colour revolution.
The Post was unable to reach Virak for comments on Monday, but Loek Sothea, GDP spokesperson, clarified that Virak’s remarks a day earlier were intended “to intensify a push for democracy” and “open a political space in which politicians are allowed to compete in a virtuous path”.
Sothea stressed that “the GDP and Cambodians wanted to see Sokha’s release” and that keeping Sokha locked up for a prolonged period would cause “regrettable consequences”.
“If Sokha is released, then pressures will ease and the suspension of EBA may not happen,” he said, suggesting that Sokha “did not seem to be guilty of what he was accused of”.
Sothea continued that the GDP wanted to have a fair competition in an equal political field.
“What we want the most is political freedom. Politicians should not be restricted, threatened or prevented from conducting politics in good faith.”
In response to GDP members’ statements, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said making suggestions was acceptable as the party had the right to do so. However, he said the GDP’s calls were “opposing the law and had no influence”.
The spokesman said “by law, no one can drop the charges that the court imposes on someone. Only the court could decide to do so”.
One of Sokha’s attorneys, Meng Sopheary, on Monday confirmed the lack of progress in his client’s case.
Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Sokha’s release depended on the country’s judicial system.
“If the court rules that Sokha is released but he remains locked up, then there is a problem,” Touch said.