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Cambodia Says Opposition Leader to Stay Detained

2019-3-5

The Cambodian government has rejected a demand from a major opposition party to release its leader from detention.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that Kem Sokha, leader of Cambodia’s National Rescue Party, will remain detained for now.

Kem Sokha has spent more than 18 months in detention. Party leaders are now demanding his release, noting that Cambodian law bans pre-trial detentions lasting more than 18 months.

The opposition leader was arrested in September 2017. He is accused of attempting to overthrow the government. But he has yet to be tried. Cambodia’s Supreme Court has banned the National Rescue Party. Those actions helped clear the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament during the July 2018 elections.

In this file photo, Cambodia's opposition leader and President of the National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha talks during an interview with Reuters in Prey Veng province, Cambodia May 28, 2017.
In this file photo, Cambodia's opposition leader and President of the National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha talks during an interview with Reuters in Prey Veng province, Cambodia May 28, 2017.

After more than a year in prison, Kem Sokha was released on bail but put under court supervision, which is similar to house arrest. He is not permitted to leave the area immediately around his home. He is barred from speaking to other opposition members, including his daughters, as well as any foreigners.

Cambodian officials have argued that Kem Sokha can remain in detention because he is technically still on bail and awaiting trial.

On Sunday, the National Rescue Party repeated its call for the government to immediately and unconditionally release Kem Sokha. In a statement, the party called his continued detention “a conspicuous violation of the nation’s constitution.” It said the charges against him and his detention are completely driven by politics.

“Kem Sokha is the symbol of positive change and non-violent struggle for freedom, respect for human rights and democracy in Cambodia,” the statement said.

But Hun Sen and his cabinet reject the calls to free Kem Sokha. A cabinet spokesman told VOA the opposition leader’s case must work its way through the courts, without government influence.

The National Rescue Party also called on the international community to take measures against Hun Sen’s government to press for full democracy and human rights.

Last week, United States lawmakers proposed a bill that would require the U.S. government to examine Cambodia’s preferential trade standing. The bill calls for the government to decide whether the trade treatment should be “withdrawn, suspended, or limited.”

The move came a few weeks after the European Union launched efforts to consider changes to Cambodia’s preferential trade treatment with its members.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

VOA News and Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bail n. an amount of money given to a court to let a prisoner to leave jail and return later for a trial

conspicuous adj. very easy to notice

preferential adj. given favorable treatment