Lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party have asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to pardon five party activists jailed for their involvement with an apparent coup attempt in 2000.
In a letter dated October 27, the SRP requested that Bun Chanto, Tomloab Mil, Chan Bunkhen, Seng Narin and Hem Em – each of whom received 15-year prison terms for their role in the coup plot – be granted amnesties during the upcoming Water Festival.
The activists have all served more than two-thirds of their sentences, making them
eligible for pardons under Cambodian law.
“Please Samdech [Hun Sen], intervene to secure pardons for the five convicts, who have served over two-thirds of their convictions … so that they have the freedom to meet with their families and rebuild their future as ordinary Khmer citizens,” the letter read.
The five activists were among many jailed in connection with a botched uprising staged by the so-called Cambodian Freedom Fighters, a United States-based group led by Long Beach accountant Chhun Yasith.
In November 2000, about 70 CFF, armed with AK-47s, grenades and B-40 rockets, slipped into the capital and attacked several government buildings. Government troops quickly quelled the CFF’s ill-coordinated attack, leaving at least eight dead and 14 injured.
In June, a US court sentenced the 53-year-old Chhun Yasith to life in prison for his role in the coup. At the time, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong welcomed Chhun Yasith’s sentence, describing the CFF’s plot as a “clear terrorist act”.
In the wake of the 2000 attacks, rights groups and opposition politicians accused the government of arbitrarily jailing law-abiding Funcinpec and SRP members in connection with the plot.
Human Rights Watch reported in December 2000 that within two weeks of the attacks, more than 200 people were arrested across Cambodia, many without warrants.
SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith said the government should release the five convicts, claiming that their activities did not affect national security or national interests but that they were lured in by a group of “tricksters”.
“Though they have made serious mistakes and been imprisoned for a long time, if it is possible it would be very kind of government leaders to understand and be tolerant of them,” he said.
Minister of Information and Government Spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment in detail, but said that any person involved in terrorist acts was unlikely to be pardoned.
The SRP’s request has also been accompanied by personal pleas from the families of the five activists. Hem Em’s wife Ven Dara said yesterday that she had written to Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni seven or eight times requesting her husband’s pardon, to no avail.
“I received a letter of response from the King once in 2009, but the King said he would ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to consider it,” Ven Dara said. “He did not ask the premier to release him, he just requested the premier to consider it.”