A jubilant crowd of opposition supporters burst into cheers yesterday afternoon as seven Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect and one party activist were released on bail just hours after an announced rapprochement between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
They walked free through exits separated by gender at Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Male lawmakers-elect Ho Vann, Real Camerin, Men Sothavarin, Keo Phirom, Long Ry and Nuth Romduol, along with activist Oeun Narith, emerged first to hugs, tears and flower garlands placed around their necks.
A heavy downpour threatened to sour the mood, but it had tapered off by the time the detainees were released.
“We did not do anything wrong,” said Ry, a lawmaker-elect for Banteay Meanchey province, who had grown a thin beard in his short prison stint.
Moments later, senior opposition leader Mu Sochua appeared through a separate exit. She thanked her supporters as well as the prisoners she met while inside. Sochua climbed into a car and gave another short speech through the sunroof.
“I’m proud. I’m proud to be a Cambodian woman and you can see that the support and desire of the Cambodian people is nothing but reconciliation and justice,” Sochua said, adding “democracy, true democracy”, before the car spirited her away.
The CNRP members were arrested and hit with a range of charges, including insurrection, in the days following clashes on July 15 between opposition demonstrators and district security guards loyal to the CPP at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, leaving several guards and activists injured.
Though free on bail, the eight still face an eventual court hearing, municipal court judge Keo Mony told the Post yesterday.
“I have allowed eight of them to stay outside their detention, temporarily,” he said.
Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, lamented the way the courts were caught up in the crisis. “It’s clear that the ruling party can do whatever they want with the court – arrest people, use them as a bargaining chip and release them at will.”
The government has consistently denied that the arrests were a political tactic, but they clearly sped up the faltering negotiations.
Days after the court charged the officials, opposition leader Sam Rainsy cut short a trip to Europe, returning home on Saturday. He called for a resolution to the deadlock that set in after disputed elections nearly a year ago. That resolution came yesterday, finally, following a meeting of just a few hours at the Senate.
On his Facebook page yesterday, Rainsy said the release of the detainees was one of the main points reached in the “comprehensive” political agreement, though it was not mentioned in the official statement.
Standing outside the prison, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he did not know where the detainees were headed after their ordeal. CNRP lawmaker-elect Long Botta said earlier in the afternoon that they would all go to party headquarters.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA, TAT OUDOM AND KEVIN PONNIAH