PHNOM PENH —
With the return of the Cambodia National Rescue Party to the National Assembly this week, following a boycott that began in November, analysts say there is a chance some of the party’s activists could be released from jail.
At least 10 Rescue Party activists and supporters are currently in detention, on various charges, including Hong Sok Hour, an aging senator who has been jailed since August. Many were arrested on charges related to demonstrations in 2014 and are serving sentences up to 20 years.
Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said the return of the Rescue Party to the Assembly could mean the beginning of political negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party that might help free the detainees.
“I think that it’s just a restart of the dialogue or an effort in discussing with each other,” he said. “But I didn’t see any significant things or agreements gained from this return.”
If the detainees are released as a result of negotiations, that could hurt the opposition’s popularity, he said. “This is the strategy of the CPP.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen said on his Facebook page Wednesday that the return of the opposition to the Assembly and the passage of three draft laws “reflects the process of democracy in Cambodia.”
The boycott was a result of anti-opposition protests in November that led to the severe beatings of two Rescue Party lawmakers by a group of masked men.
Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University and a political analyst, said he believes there’s a chance political discussions can lead to the release of the Rescue Party’s supporters. “They all have hearts,” he said of the politicians. “When they’re close together, a joint solution must be found.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied speculation that talks could free the detainees. That is a matter for the courts, he said. “We are optimistic that talks will be held, but we can’t determine what will be the objective of the talks and what we should discuss. It depends on the agreements of both parties.”