Prime Minister Hun Sen has denied the release of 72 former opposition party supporters on bail was done after he caved to foreign pressure amidst a review of the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade status.
“[Rainsy] dared to say I made the decision [to release them] because of pressure,” Mr Hun Sen said during a groundbreaking ceremony for a road in Sihanoukville on Saturday. “Believe it or not, in just three days, we will have them all arrested again.”
“For security reasons, these people will be arrested once again and detained in jails,” he added. “Then the court must speed up the cases and let them serve in jails across the country.”
The 72 were released on bail on Friday and Saturday after Mr Hun Sen ordered Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to look into releasing pro-CNRP activists sent to pre-trial detention for allegedly conspiring with Sam Rainsy to plan a coup to mark his return to the Kingdom on November 9.
Over the weekend, Rainsy took to Facebook to say that Mr Hun Sen was pressured by the European Union to free the 72.
“Events in Cambodia are moving very fast. Don’t believe Hun Sen’s boastful claims! He has started to release political prisoners and will continue to reverse his repressive policy until December 12, 2019, just because he has to respond to the European Union’s ultimatum,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen said the 72 were released on bail because he wanted to unite the nation and maintain peace and security, noting they were misled by Rainsy.
“We cannot exchange our national sovereignty for trade preferences or foreign aid,” he said, adding that the 72 will be arrested again if they continue to act against the government.
The government is currently reviewing the European Commission’s preliminary report on whether the Kingdom should retain its EBA status, which allows preferential access to the EU market.
The EC said EBA may be suspended due to serious and systematic violations of labour and human rights.
Am Sam Ath, deputy monitoring director for rights group Licadho, yesterday said the 72 are “political victims” rather than coup suspects.
“Since the beginning, we have considered their arrests as violations of the right to participate in political activities,” Mr Sam Ath said. “They were arrested during a political tension between the ruling party and the former opposition party.”
Ou Chanrath, former CNRP lawmaker, yesterday said the decision to release the 72 was correct because Rainsy failed to return to the Kingdom.
“Sam Rainsy failed even though he refuses to acknowledge the failure to return,” Mr Chanrath said. “He could not achieve his plan. He caused trouble for his supporters instead.”
“I understand that it was necessary to release [the 72]…because if they were not released, the EU will apply more pressure,” he added.