A senior ruling party lawmaker has rejected allegations that the group of 21 activists, unionists and workers arrested during protests last month and denied bail for a second time yesterday are being used as a political tool by the government to force the opposition party to join the National Assembly.
Cheam Yeap, a Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker, yesterday insisted that the detainees’ cases were under the court’s control and that the ruling party would not be able to influence the legal outcome.
“These 21 individuals are in the hands of the court. You already know that the constitution states that there are three [separate] powers in Cambodia: legislative, executive and [judicial]. Each [branch] cannot interfere with each other’s internal affairs,” he said.
If the detainees were simply released, the government could be accused of allowing impunity to flourish, Yeap added, nonetheless saying that “problems” could not be solved until the leaders of both political parties meet.
“We have to have a top meeting first. Depending on how [that goes], we can solve more [problems]. We can request to His Majesty.… The King can [give a Royal pardon], according to forgiveness, or … for political reasons, or [any] other reason. [But] please come to meet [us] first.”
Moeun Tola, labour program head at the Community Legal Education Center, said outside the Appeal Court yesterday that government rhetoric in recent weeks had made him believe the detainees’ case was undoubtedly political.
“With the decision today, it’s clear that court is not looking at the facts. But they just listen to the … political signs,” he said.
“It’s clear for us to see that the arrest of, the detention of, the 21, it is just like pressure [on] the [Cambodia National Rescue Party] to legitimise the National Assembly.”
Veteran political analyst Chea Vannath said the detainees’ ongoing incarceration was a strategy to discourage would-be protesters.
“The 21 individuals are [stuck] between both political parties. I see that the [detainees] are not being released in order to prevent any more demonstrations from being held in the future,” she said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that his party demanded the immediate release of the detainees. He did not, however, confirm that their release was a pre-condition for fresh talks with the ruling party.
“A better political environment is the pre-condition. Only one phrase that covers everything – a better political environment.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH AND SEAN TEEHAN