Former King Norodom Sihanouk apologized to the wife of jailed opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy and informed her he had ‘’no right’’ as retired king to pardon her husband.
The 82-year-old patriarch, currently in Beijing, wrote on Wednesday to the wife, Chum Sieng Leng, and posted the Khmer-language letter on his website (www.norodomsihanouk.info). She had written to him asking for assistance in freeing her husband, who was accused and convicted last week of attempting to build a private army to attack the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. A military court gave him seven years.
Chum Sieng Leng declined to comment about Sihanouk’s response but asserted there was no genuine evidence or witness testimony that proved the government’s case against her husband.
Sihanouk has indicated recently that he thinks the state’s case against Cheam Channy – who was arrested in February – was weak and allegations were unsubstantiated. Human rights groups and the U.S. Embassy have publicly called the arrest and verdict politically motivated intimidation and called for Cheam Channy’s release.
King Norodom Sihamoni, the son of and successor of Sihanouk, has written to Hun Sen asking the premier to consider allowing a royal pardon of Cheam Channy. In recent years, questionable court convictions of prominent Hun Sen opponents have been followed by political intrigue and then royal pardons tacitly approved by Hun Sen.
However, Hun Sen said Monday that he will not permit a royal pardon of Cheam Channy and suggested that, perhaps, after serving two-thirds of the sentence, the outspoken lawmaker could be freed.
Hun Sen and supporters of his government have tightened their grip on the floundering nation since capturing flawed elections in 2003, and outspoken critics increasingly have been killed or harassed.
The Cambodian economy continues to stagnate and basic services such as health care and education barely function in most parts of the country. More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s 13 million people live in rural areas. Studies have shown more people are living below the poverty line each passing month.