WASHINGTON DC - Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni has granted a royal pardon to self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, clearing the way for a possible return home before an upcoming general election.
Cabinet spokesman Pay Siphan said Friday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had sent a letter to the king requesting the pardon.
Rainsy announced Monday that he would return to the country before the July 28 election.
He is living in France after fleeing Cambodia in 2009 before a court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for disinformation, and other charges, which were widely seen as motivated by politics. It is not clear if he will be allowed to run for office if he does return.
The pardon is a boost to supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the coalition of key opposition parties that combined to contest the election.
Rainsy left Cambodia in 2009 before two court cases, both of which related to the country’s contentious, ill-defined border with Vietnam.
The courts sentenced Rainsy for two years for uprooting a temporary border marker, and a further nine years for disinformation after he showed off a map the government said provided the wrong borders.
The jail sentence was widely seen as a clumsy attempt to use the courts to hobble Hun Sen’s most trenchant and effective political opponent.
Rainsy said recently that his return would test the government’s claim the election would be free and fair.