Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday he would seek pardons for convicted opposition members, but refrained from negotiating to have a ban from politics lifted against more than 100 former members of the opposition CNRP.
Speaking yesterday during a building inauguration at Chhouk Var pagoda in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen said he would seek pardons for former opposition CNRP members and activists who have been convicted of crimes.
“The law gives the right to grant pardons to prisoners but it does not allow pardons for those who have been banned from politics,” he said. “So if you want to be pardoned, you must serve [some] of the prison sentence first.”
In July 2015, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted 11 CNRP opposition members and activists, including Meach Sovannara, former director of the CNRP’s information department.
They were sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years over insurrection charges after being arrested in the wake of July 2014 protests at Freedom Park, which culminated in violent clashes between protesters and security officials.
Last month, the Supreme Court upheld a 30-month prison sentence against former opposition lawmaker Um Sam An for incitement over Facebook posts he made criticising the government’s demarcation of the border with Vietnam.
Mr Sam An, an American and Cambodian citizen, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in October last year for Facebook posts in which he accused the government of ceding territory to Vietnam by using improperly demarcated maps.
On November 16, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP after opposition leader Kem Sokha was jailed on treason charges and the party was accused of conspiring with a foreign power to topple the government.
The court also banned 118 senior CNRP members from politics for five years, including Mr Sokha, his oldest daughter Kem Monovithya, two vice presidents Eng Chhay Eng and Mu Sochua, as well as all 55 former CNRP lawmakers and chief leaders at the provincial level.
“I would like to clarify that those who have been banned from politics, there is no law that states that pardons be granted for political rights,” Mr Hun Sen noted yesterday.
“Their situation is quite different than those who have been convicted and sentenced to jail terms,” he added. “The Prime Minister has the right to request the King pardon those serving jail terms.”
Mr Hun Sen then reminded the 118 senior members barred from politics that they created the problem for themselves.
“This problem was created by you,” he said. “You intended to topple the legitimate government and you committed [crimes] systematically.”
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said even though there was no law that would allow the premier to pardon the barred politicians, it should be done nonetheless.
“Generally, I think loopholes can always be found and we must remember that the ban from politics was meted out by the court,” he said. “So they should also be able to gain pardons.”
Mr Chanrath added that if pardons were in the pipeline for former opposition members currently behind bars, he was concerned they were coming to simply let them out and allow them to form new political parties to create a facade of multi-party democracy ahead of the national election in July.
“I believe this current political crisis will remain unsolved if the government just releases them in order to form political parties to contest national elections in July,” he said.