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‘Pardon political activists for Pchum Ben’

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Opposition lawmaker Um Sam An is escorted through the grounds of the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh in 2016. Heng Chivoan

‘Pardon political activists for Pchum Ben’

A former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) politician has called for jailed members of the Supreme Court-dissolved opposition party to be among those released after the Ministry of Justice said 319 prisoners had requested pardons ahead of the upcoming Pchum Ben religious festival.

Prime Minister Hun Sun on Sunday talked again of a “large-scale release” of prisoners during Pchum Ben, in addition to the traditional pardons usually given during Khmer New Year and Water Festival, and on Visak Bochea (Buddha Day).

“This year I want to have large-scale pardons during Pchum Ben, Independence Day [on November 9] and the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war [at the end of December]."

“The Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior are reviewing the cases,” the prime minister said during a talk to members of the Cambodian diaspora in the US after attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

A former lawmaker with the CNRP, Ou Chanrath, said those in jail due to their political affiliation should be a priority for release, while those in a similar position who have not yet been convicted should have their charges dropped.

“I think those who have been convicted for their political affiliation or [because of such] discrimination should be released. Political activists should be pardoned."

“I believe it would be useful because if they are released, the political situation would be better in view of the local situation and regarding the international community,” Chanrath said.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Sunday that 319 prisoners – 169 of whom are women – had requested either a pardon or a reduced sentence for Pchum Ben, which falls in the second week of October.

But Malin said the actual number of those given pardons or reduced sentences would depend on the committee working on the matter. He said the names of the suitable prisoners would be published in a royal decree.

“For this Pchum Ben, the national committee is reviewing the possibility of giving pardons or reducing sentences to prisoners after the instruction from Samdech Techo [Hun Sen].

“These pardons or [sentence] reductions will be on a humanitarian basis, meaning we are considering some target groups such as pregnant women and women with children with them in prison, the elderly or ill,” Malin said.

Malin said although the target groups had been set, the prisoners would also have to show that they had educated themselves while imprisoned and have their suitability backed according to the evaluation of prison officials and the provincial and national level committees.

He explained that prisoners who had shown themselves to have been rehabilitated and had served a third of their jail terms could request a sentence reduction, while those who had served two thirds could request a pardon.

‘Don’t forget’

Hun Sen said on Sunday that the recent release of opposition officials and activists was meant to help unify the Kingdom and allow such prisoners who had educated and reformed themselves to return to society.

“Some people have asked why did I let them get bail. My brothers and sisters! If we can do it, we should try to have Cambodia unified, not separated. When [those who have transgressed] accept their mistakes, if we can, we should [help them]."

“In the context of my power, I have the right to do this. But in the legal context of the court, it is another story. But if the [court] verdict is final, the right to ask for a pardon from the King is the right of the prime minister. “The law states that the prime minister has the right to request pardons from the King at any time,” he said.

The prime minister also pointed out that the recent release of former CNRP members had come about after those concerned had accepted their mistakes and asked for pardons.

“In the case of Um Sam An, he accepted his mistake. I would like to give my word to Um Sam An to stop lying about the letter he wrote – we will keep publishing it. Meach Sovannara and others, don’t forget that you said what you did was wrong and that you would not do such things again,” he said.

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