Cambodia opposition leader released from jail

Published September 10, 2018, 12:43 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Agence France-Presse

Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha was released from jail early Monday a year after he was detained on treason charges, as the country’s strongman ruler loosens his grip on opponents after sweeping one-sided elections.

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was detained almost exactly a year ago (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was detained almost exactly a year ago (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Kem Sokha returned home at 3:30am,” his lawyer Chan Chen told AFP, after his release from a remote border prison.

A court official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kem Sokha was freed on bail although his lawyer could not immediately confirm the conditions of his release.

He was arrested on September 3, 2017, and accused of treason as Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen deepened his pre-election crackdown on political rivals.

Until his release, he was in pre trial detention, facing up to 30 years if convicted. It is not yet clear if the charges have been dropped.

The case against Kem Sokha, 65, was widely seen as politically motivated and just two months later his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) — the only serious rival to Hun Sen – was dissolved by a court.

That left the ruling party to win all 125 parliamentary seats in July’s election, turning the country into a one-party state and extending Hun Sen’s 33-year stay in office.

The CNRP made major gains during a 2013 election, propelled by significant disatisfaction among Cambodia’s large youth population, in a surprise showing that rattled Hun Sen.

But the party was then decimated by Hun Sen’s crackdown last year, with many of its leading figures fleeing abroad. Kem Sokha’s predecessor Sam Rainsy lives in self-exile in Paris to escape a slew of charges that he says are politically motivated.