Asia Pacific / Politics

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha freed from house arrest

Reuters

More than two years after he was arrested and charged with treason, Cambodia on Sunday freed opposition leader Kem Sokha from house arrest, but the charges remain and he is banned from politics and from leaving the country.

Pressure has been growing on Hun Sen, Cambodia’s authoritarian ruler of more than three decades, to ease a crackdown on his opponents as the European Union considers whether to go ahead with cutting preferential trade terms.

“As an innocent person who has been jailed for two years, I continue to demand that the charges against me be dropped,” Kem Sokha said in a Facebook post.

“I expect today’s decision to be the first step, but I, as well as many other Cambodians who have lost political freedom, still need real solutions and justice.”

Kem Sokha, 66, was arrested in 2017 and the Cambodia National Rescue Party was banned in the run-up to last year’s general election that Hun Sen’s ruling party then swept but which was condemned as a farce by Western countries.

Kem Sokha was accused of plotting with foreigners to oust Hun Sen — a charge he dismissed as nonsense.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court said in a statement that Kem Sokha could leave his house, but that he could not engage in political activity or leave the country.

“This is because he has been cooperative with the authorities,” said Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin.

The easing of restrictions also comes a day after Sam Rainsy, 70, a co-founder of their now-banned opposition party, flew into the region from self-imposed exile, saying he aimed to return home to rally Hun Sen’s opponents.

Hun Sen, 67, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled the country of 16 million for more than 34 years with an iron hand and a wily ability to play off his opponents against each other and sow division among them.

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