King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday granted royal pardons to 14 ex-CNRP jailed for the past three years after being convicted of leading an insurrection.
King Sihamoni has granted multiple royal pardons over the past week and did so for the 14 former party members yesterday after Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week that he was seeking their freedom.
Ly Sophanna, spokesman for Phnom Penh Municipal Court, could not be reached for comment yesterday to confirm their release from prison.
However, the group is expected to be released from prison today according to local media reports.
According to the royal pardon obtained by Khmer Times last night, Meach Sovannara, former head of the CNRP’s information department, and 13 party activists were granted amnesty.
The 14 were found guilty of leading and participating in an insurrection after a violent clash between party supporters and Daun Penh district security guards at the Freedom Park on July 15, 2014.
The clash happened when authorities took action to stop opposition supporters from protesting to reopen the park which was closed in the wake of protests calling for a re-election after the 2013 national poll.
Mr Sovannara was sentenced to 20 years in prison and the ten others were sentenced to between seven and 20 years.
Chan Chen, defence lawyer for Mr Sovannara, said last night that he was happy the royal pardon was issued, but noted the group should never have been jailed in the first place.
“I’m happy that my clients were pardoned,” he said. “It’s what we have been waiting for over the past three years. However, I would add that they are innocent.”
Outside the prison gates, Sem Van was holding roses as she waited for news of the pardon and a chance to see her jailed husband.
“I miss my husband so badly,” she said while crying.
Pich Chandy, the wife of jailed activist San Kimheng, was holding her three-year-old daughter outside the prison after taking a bus from Kampot to Phnom Penh.
“He was jailed when I was two months pregnant,” she said. “I delivered the baby at the hospital all by myself.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen said last Thursday that he would seek royal pardons for all the jailed former CNRP members after they asked for his mercy and forgiveness, and noted that it had nothing to do with pressure from the international community.
In a letter they wrote to seek forgiveness from Mr Hun Sen after his announcement, Mr Sovannara and the 13 activists said they regretted their participation in the demonstration, which impacted security and social order.
“We have been imprisoned for more than three years and we miss our family and parents so much,” the letter penned on Friday said. “Our children have abandoned studies because their fathers are trapped in prison, leading to a loss of income for the families.”
The letter added that the 14 men pledged to not join any protests without thoughtful consideration going forward.
“We will respect the constitution and other laws in a bid to ensure peace that Samdech Techo Hun Sen has attained for the country’s development,” the letter said. “I, Meach Sovannara, promise to withdraw my complaints from both local and international courts that I filed earlier.”
Former CNRP lawmakers Pol Hom and Um Sam An said more political prisoners need to be pardoned.
“Everything has an end and a solution,” Mr Hom said. “Their pardon brings happiness to their families, friends and supporters. So, I hope there are pardons for other prisoners that deserve it.”
“Prey Sar is too crowded, and all political prisoners should be released,” Mr Hom added.
Um Sam An, who was released on Saturday following a royal pardon, said he hopes a ban from politics for 118 ex-CNRP senior officials will be lifted and former president Kem Sokha released from jail.
Mr Sokha was jailed in September on treason charges for allegedly colluding with the US to topple the government. Afterwards, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 officials from politics.
“It’s time for the country to reunite and reconcile,” said Mr Sam An, who was pardoned after being sentenced to 30 months in jail in October 2017 for accusing the government of ceding territory to Vietnam.
“I hope Cambodian politicians will be more mature going forward,” he added. “Political prisoners should be released and allowed to resume their posts.”
The amnesty for the 14 former CNRP members follows multiple royal pardons issued over the past week.
Last week, King Sihamoni pardoned former Khmer Power Party president Sourn Serey Ratha, who was convicted of inciting military personnel to disobedience, and also land activist Tep Vanny.
Two former Radio Free Asia reporters were also granted bail after being imprisoned since November and political analyst Kim Sok walked free after serving his defamation sentence despite more charges lingering over his head.