Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday said his request to have the supporters of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his “coup plot” released on bail was not made under international pressure.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of 34 roads in Preah Sihanouk province, Hun Sen said the release was leniency for the 72 activists who had been cheated by ringleaders, including Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“Because the planned coup was a failure, I forgave the 72 that had been arrested. We released them on bail.
“Facebook users said Hun Sen released them under pressure. But I tell you what, we can bring them back [to prison] and even arrest those who said I did this under duress,” he said.
Hun Sen stressed that their legal issues had not ended, with each remaining under court supervision. He also warned those who had not been convicted against repeating their offence and expressing support for the coup plot.
“The 18 ringleaders cannot escape. If you continue your activities and join the [coup plotters] again, more arrests will be made. If you repeat your offences, you will be detained,” he said.
Hun Sen was referring to 18 former senior CNRP officials including Rainsy who are alleged to have organised the coup plot.
He also called on other Rainsy coup plotters who had gone into hiding in Thailand to return home without fear of arrest.
Last Thursday, Hun Sen instructed the Ministry of Justice to work with prosecutors on the release of Rainsy supporters who he said had been deceived into joining his plot to overthrow the legitimate government.
They were arrested for “plotting” after publicly expressing support for Rainsy, who has repeatedly announced plans to return from self-exile to overthrow Hun Sen.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan on Sunday echoed Hun Sen’s remarks. He said the 72 were innocent people who had been deceived into joining the coup plot.
“For certain individuals, there is clear evidence against them, so they remain under court supervision.” he said.
Siphan said migrant workers and other fugitives who had merely expressed support for Rainsy but did not join activities deemed to be a threat to national security are welcome to return home without facing arrest.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Hun Sen’s warning of re-arrest was made in response to Rainsy who claimed the release resulted from his efforts to lobby the international community to exert pressure on the government.
He said there was apparent division among opposition supporters before Rainsy’s promised return which did not happen.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen takes the initiative to unify the nation after Rainsy did not return to Cambodia as promised. He believes this is the right time to show he’s pro-reconciliation, so he released them in good faith,” he said.