Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Minister of Justice to work with prosecutors to release on bail under court supervision those activists who had supported Sam Rainsy’s plan to return and overthrow the government.
Speaking at the inauguration of a cement factory in Kampot province on Thursday, Hun Sen said the move was a symbol of national unity and could be made if requested by the families of the activists and their lawyers.
He said the activists had been deceived by ringleaders, who he did not name.
“So I asked the Ministry of Justice and prosecutors to work on this. How many of them, in Kampot for example, can be released on bail? Please work that out. How many of them have been detained in this [plotting] case?
But only release those who are involved in the coup plot. Please let them out on bail. Those involved in drug or rape cases cannot be freed,” Hun Sen said.
The authorities had so far arrested more than 70 CNRP activists for “plotting” after CNRP “acting president” Sam Rainsy announced plans to return to the Kingdom on November 9.
He said that with reduced bail conditions, the activists could go about their business and travel anywhere within Cambodia, but they would not be able to leave the country without the court’s approval.
The prime minister said he had requested that two CNRP activists in Kampot be released first.
Citing reasons for the move, he said that as the head of the executive body, he is by law allowed to have jurisdiction over criminal policy, with prosecutors under the Ministry of Justice.
“So what is the Ministry of Justice? It works under the government. Therefore, the prime minister has jurisdiction over this,” Hun Sen said.
He also appealed to CNRP activists who had gone into hiding in Thailand to return to Cambodia without fear of being punished.
“I have ordered the sub-national level authorities not to arrest those security, peace and social stability, especially for destroying the plot by rebel groups led by the convict Sam Rainsy to gather forces to stage a coup on November 9.”
Rainsy had repeatedly appealed to the people and armed forces to unite against the government, claiming he had a budget in place for members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) who defected from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
He also announced a plan to lead large numbers of migrant workers into Cambodia from Thailand on November 9 to restore democracy and human rights, and to change the government, which he said was dictatorial.
The government deemed the plan a plot to overthrow it and the monarchy, and ordered the deployment of armed forces throughout the country to thwart any such attempt.
Speaking to reporters in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur after he was barred from boarding a flight to Indonesia on Wednesday, Rainsy maintained his stance of returning to the Kingdom, though he did not confirm an exact date.
Rainsy said the easing of bail conditions for his CNRP co-founder Kem Sokha was a sign that all charges against party officials could be dropped.
Sokha was arrested in September 2017 and charged with “conspiracy with a foreign power”. He faces a maximum of 30 years imprisonment if found guilty.
The reduction of his bail conditions came following a request by his lawyers considering his health, good cooperation with the court and having respected his bail conditions. He is allowed to travel freely within the country but barred from going abroad.
“We will find a way to return to Cambodia. I will stay in the [Asean] region because the situation [in Cambodia] could change rapidly,” Rainsy said.
However, Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled out the possibility of Rainsy’s return, saying he would not request a royal pardon for him as he had done in the past.
Speaking at the inauguration of a cement factory in Kampot province on Thursday, the prime minister said: “Please remember that your guilt cannot be forgiven. It must go through the law, and the only person who has the right to make a request to the King is Hun Sen.
“But Hun Sen will not sign a request for a royal pardon. I won’t mention your name, but this is a clear political message,” he said, likely referring to Rainsy.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, echoed Hun Sen’s remarks.
“Sam Rainsy may not get the opportunity to return to Cambodia anytime soon. In the long run, maybe he could because political context always changes, but not now,” Phea said.