Prime Minister-designate Hun Sen on Thursday hinted that he could soon request that a royal pardon is issued for 12 imprisoned members of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). But he was quick to say the move wasn’t a response to international pressure.
Referencing political voices who had recently been released from prison – namely Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny, analyst Kim Sok and two Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters granted bail – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) president warned them not to be rude, saying they could be sent back to prison.
He ended his comments by saying that even freedom of expression has its limits.
Addressing more than 17,500 garments workers in Kandal province on Thursday, Hun Sen alluded to the fact that he would ask King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon the 12 activists for one of the coming holidays.
“Maybe during Pchum Ben, Water Festival or Independence Day this year, I will ask [the King to pardon them]. Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana is present here. This year, we might have major amnesty, so people who are imprisoned have the opportunity to come out.
“Therefore, besides a number of prisoners that have already been pardoned, [the government] will continue to request more pardons. Please do not say this is because of international pressure. I hate those words,” Hun Sen said.
Instead, the CPP leader said that any pardon could be attributed to his “charity” or “kindness”.
“I plan to request pardons for 12 other people. If I demand they apologise, they should prepare a letter. However, if they issue comments that [the pardons] are because of international pressure, I would hold on. I would hold on until the person making the comments is punished,” he said.
Addressing those who had been released recently, Hun Sen warned that they shouldn’t speak out against the legal system, lest they suffer another sentence.
“Let me remind you . . . don’t be rude. People who were recently released . . . don’t defy me. Do not think that we cannot imprison you again. In Cambodia, there are no laws that prohibit people who were already in prison, to go to jail again for the second or third time.
“That is not to say that we are shutting your mouth. You can still speak, as long as what you say doesn’t violate other peoples’ rights. You need to remember that your freedom borders on the freedom of others,” he stressed.
Despite the fact that Hun Sen specifically mentioned the imminent release of 12 activists, in reality, 15 CNRP members are incarcerated, including Um Sam An who was convicted on charges stemming from his accusations that the government mishandled a border issue.
Meach Sovannara, the former head of the CNRP’s information and media department was locked up in July 2015 along with 13 others over actions at an opposition protest at Freedom Park the year before.
On Thursday, former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath, who frequently visits the imprisoned party members welcomed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments about a possible release.
“I welcome this request which is what I have often called for. It means that the political situation has returned to normal. It has cooled down, and we are moving back to democracy by having discussions,” he said.
Responding to Hun Sen’s assertions that the possible release was not due to political pressure, Chanrath claimed that all previous pardons were linked to politics.
“I think that as the leader of a country and a senior politician, his stance and decisions are very important. When there are criticisms that makes him unhappy, it can affect decisions or influence his stance.”
Kim Sok questioned whether the pardons would be a quid pro quo, and asked if the Kingdom was still following democratic principles.
“When justice does not depend on the laws and becomes a tool that works for powerful people, they can alter the laws. The laws are whatever they say. Their words are laws.
“This is a strategy to divert the attention of national and international communities and reduce the pressure. It will raise his reputation at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September. The old strategies have not been abandoned,” he said.
Late Thursday it was revealed that Khmer Power Party President Sourn Serey Rotha had also been given a royal pardon
Ratha, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 10 million riel for inciting soldiers to disobey orders, discouraging the soldiers, and inciting to commit crimes.