Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Ou Chanroth called for 15 members of the court-dissolved opposition group to be freed.
He was speaking during a visit to Prey Sar prison on Wednesday on the back of the release of a prominent land activist and two ex-Radio Free Asia reporters this week.
Chanroth visited the capital’s main correctional facility with six relatives and urged the government to release the CNRP activists and officials, including senior figures such as Um Sam An and Meach Sovannara.
“During the meeting, I noticed that they were in good health and strong in spirit. They asked me to request the government and court to release them as soon as possible because the political situation is [calm],” he said.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the release of prisoners was a matter for the courts and not the government. Hence, it had to be done through judicial procedures.
“Anyone who has been punished or imprisoned by the court will serve sentences in accordance with the verdict. The court would monitor the convict’s activities to determine if they have changed for the better . . . it all depends on the assessment, not requests,” he said.
Chanroth had also appealed to the government to release the detainees before last month’s national elections on the grounds that they should not continue to be imprisoned as they had been punished enough, with some having been in prison for two or three years already.
The detention of the former CNRP members also had a devastating effect on their families, he said.
Chanroth said at his meeting with his former colleagues, they complained of receiving worse treatment than other prisoners because of their political status.
Their movements are restricted and they could only meet visitors from behind a glass partition, whereas other prisoners, he said, could sit with their visitors and even share food with them.
The Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prison spokesman Son Keo said it is normal for prisoners to have their movements restricted. Such measures, he said, were applied equally and without discrimination to any particular group.
He said Chanroth could make such claims as that was his right, but the fact remained that all prisoner restrictions were procedures carried out purely to maintain security and order.
“Prisoners have equal rights and obligations. [Chanroth] talked about restrictions, [but] all such prisoner restrictions are done equally and not against [any one group] in particular,” he said.
Human rights group Adhoc’s spokesman Soeng Sen Karona said that in the last few days a land activist, former RFA staff and social analysts have been released on bail but not the political prisoners. They should be released as well because the political situation is normal now, he said.
He said if Chanroth’s account is correct, the discrimination contradicts the constitution. “Officials need to enforce the rules equally for all inmates. When they are in prison, they already lose half of their rights [to freedom], so their remaining rights should be respected [through equal treatment],” he said.
Among those still in prison are Um Sam An, who was charged in connection with a border case, and 13 former CNRP activists who were imprisoned for their involvement in demonstrations in Freedom Park in 2014.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced each to between seven and 20 years in prison in July 2015.