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Focus shifts to other prisoners

Recently pardoned Kem Sokha, acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, meets with young supporters at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Recently pardoned Kem Sokha, acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, meets with young supporters at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Focus shifts to other prisoners

His five-month jail term cleared by a royal pardon, Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha yesterday said he had lobbied Prime Minister Hun Sen in a bid to free political prisoners languishing in Prey Sar prison and expressed confidence a solution could be found.

Sokha was on Friday absolved of his conviction for refusing to appear at court to answer questions about a “prostitution” charge linked to his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty.

The royal decree ended six months of self-imposed confinement for the CNRP leader, who returned to his family’s Tuol Kork residence on Saturday morning from the party’s headquarters, where he had been living to avoid arrest.

The pardon – arranged by Hun Sen, and dubbed a “compromise” by the ruling party – also raised hopes that political prisoners languishing in Prey Sar could be released under a deal between the parties.

In his first speech since his pardon, Sokha yesterday told supporters gathered at CNRP headquarters that he had spoken with Hun Sen to push the issue.

“This resolution will not end with the release of Kem Sokha only,” said the CNRP leader, who described his pardon as the “first step” in a broader political settlement. “There will be steps to solve other remaining problems, especially that of our brothers and sisters who remain in prison.”

Sokha also moved to quash speculation that the CPP had exacted concessions in exchange for his pardon, claiming he and the premier reached an agreement in the spirit of “national reconciliation”.

“There were no conditions at all,” he claimed.

His mobility restored, Sokha said he planned to visit the political prisoners in Prey Sar, meet with King Norodom Sihamoni and call on grassroots supporters.

Six of the prisoners are linked directly to the Sokha investigation. Four staffers at rights group Adhoc, the National Election Committee’s Ny Chakrya and commune chief Seang Chet have been detained since May for an alleged plot to “bribe” Chandaraty to stay quiet about the affair.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen CNRP activists, two opposition lawmakers and other figures are also in custody in cases widely considered politically motivated.

Despite the apparent political rapprochement, freedom for prisoners linked to Sokha’s case will have to wait until the group is tried, ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday, noting only convicts, not those accused, can be pardoned.

“When the verdict becomes final, we will think of a pardon,” Eysan said.

Reached yesterday, defence lawyers for some of the group, Sam Sokong and Choung Choungy, said they had yet to receive details of a timeframe for upcoming hearings, though both said they were willing to drop appeals to pave the way to a political resolution.

A verdict in the case of jailed commune chief Seang Chet is scheduled for today.

Family members of two of the Adhoc prisoners, meanwhile, said recent events had them hoping their loved ones would soon be home. “This is a good sign for the human rights officers,” said Un Bunary, daughter of Lim Mony.

Yem Chantha, wife of the NEC’s Chakrya, added: “I pray for politicians to get along with each other. If they get along, our situation is good, but when they argue, it will be bad for my husband”.

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