Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Palace aides push pardons

Palace aides push pardons

Palace aides push pardons


Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando (C) is hustled into a van to be taken to Prey Sar prison after being sentenced to a 20-year jail term, Monday, Oct.1, 2012. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando (C) is hustled into a van to be taken to Prey Sar prison after being sentenced to a 20-year jail term, Monday, Oct.1, 2012. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Palace insiders have begun hinting that a royal amnesty for political prisoners may be forthcoming in homage to the passing of Cambodia’s beloved former monarch King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

Son Soubert, an adviser to King Norodom Sihamoni, yesterday hinted that the king would likely acquiesce to a plea for such an amnesty made by the late King Father’s former adviser Prince Thomico Sisowath late last week.

“I cannot talk on behalf of the king, but I’m sure on this case he would be willing to comply with that and willing to sign the amnesty,” he said, adding that all political prisoners should have a chance to pay their final respects to the King Father.

“I think that’s the feeling of everyone, that justice would be repaired, even the people who came and prayed for the King Father. I think there should be justice for everyone.”

As a constitutional monarch, the king could not issue a pardon or amnesty without the endorsement of the government, which Soubert said he called on to take such actions in respect of the late King Father.

Also citing respect for the monarchy, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said the likes of Thomico and Soubert should not opportunistically use Sihanouk’s death for their own political ends during the one-week period of morning, which ends on Wednesday.

“Those two people should be real Cambodians,” he said, adding the government would say nothing further on the issue until Wednesday.

Soubert also said the amnesty should be permanent and was “especially” important for the jailed outspoken government critic Mam Sonando and self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who were both close to the late King Father and should be able to pay their last respects.

Sonando, the owner of Beehive radio, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in October for charges related to his alleged involvement in a so-called secessionist plot, charges that have widely been condemned as spurious and politically motivated.

Rainsy, long a thorn in the side of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and leader of the newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party, faces 14 years jail from charges ranging from defamation to forging public documents and racial incitement should he return from self-imposed exile in France.

Thomico said yesterday there wouldn’t been “any better chance than this” to free Sonando and pardon Rainsy than now.

These latest appeals for the pair’s release come amid speculation over what shape the reign of the until-now reserved Sihamoni will take now that his “god-king” father has passed away.

In contrast to his son, Sihanouk frequently divulged his often acerbic views on political figures, including his son Norodom Ranariddh, but also sought to act as a mediator in times of political strife.

In February, 2005, after Rainsy and several party colleagues had again fled from convictions into exile, Sihanouk proposed a five-point political solution to secure pardons, citing good Buddhist values.

Political experts yesterday were circumspect about the likelihood of Sihamoni riding the wave of public sentiment that has swelled behind the monarchy following the death of his father in an attempt to exert a greater political role.

Pre-eminent Cambodia historian David Chandler said any suggestion that Sihamoni, who had always seemed a reluctant king, was about to step into the political limelight was absurd.

Thomico and Soubert’s comments more likely signalled a shrewd political move to push their aims of getting Rainsy back in the country and Sonando out of jail, he said.

“I think there’s a window of opportunity to get that prisoner [Sonando] out of jail,” Chandler said.

Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor of politics at the University of New South Wales, said that in a political system in which Prime Minister Hun Sen was so dominant, it was impossible for Sihamoni to step in as dispute mediator.

“[Soubert’s comments] are a trial balloon reflecting the attitude of the elite  . . . that there is this opportunity. I don’t think King Sihamoni would be behind it,” he said.

“I think it probably reflects some kind of discussions among the royal circle.”

But Thayer said that by raising a desire to end the “conundrum of Sam Rainsy” and put the country back on a democratic path, Soubert and Thomico could stimulate interesting public debate on the issue.

Rainsy said  from Cote d’Ivoire yesterday he longed for the opportunity to pay his last respects to the man who had given him his political birth in 1992 by appointing him to the Supreme National Council.

“Now he has passed away. Leaving aside any political considerations, this is my human duty to pay my last respects to someone who has been so generous to me and the country,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
David Boyle at [email protected]


  • US names new ambassador to Cambodia

    US President Donald Trump on Friday appointed W Patrick Murphy as the new US Ambassador to Cambodia, replacing incumbent William A Heidt. A press release posted on the White House’s website said nominee W Patrick Murphy is currently acting principal deputy assistant secretary at

  • Kingdom is at a crossroads between East, West after poll

    It was dubbed a success by caretaker prime minister Hun Sen after the electoral victory of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which is poised to take all seats in the National Assembly. But the July 29 national election has not been positively looked at by

  • Final poll results confirm first single-party Assembly

    IN an unprecedented situation in Cambodian politics, the official results of the July 29 national elections have declared that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will take all 125 seats in the National Assembly on the back of it receiving 76 per cent of the votes. The National

  • Chinese influence to sweep Kingdom?

    Growing Cambodia-China ties have seen the latter’s influence sweep across the Kingdom through increased investments and tourism. The Asian giant has become the leading source of foreign funds in Cambodia, fuelling the construction sector with huge casino and hotel projects. Much of the growth