The government and ruling party last week refused a request from the UN human rights commissioner’s office to release a number of political prisoners detained since the 2013 general election.
Sixteen opposition members and activists have been detained along with four human rights workers, an election official and a prominent land rights activist.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for them to be released as a good will gesture in the aftermath of relatively free and fair local elections held earlier this month.
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said that the UN was attempting to interfere in Cambodian politics.
“Individuals who are legally guilty must be held accountable in court. This is fair in the fight against impunity. Fighting against impunity will ensure democracy and social order is strengthened,” he said.
Sok Eysan, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, denied that the Cambodian government had ever intimidated or threatened opposition figures.
“The UN should advise the opposition activists not to break the law if they want to avoid being punished and detained rather then asking the government to set them free,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at local human rights group Licadho, however, said if the government relented and released the activists it would go a long way to heal divisions in society ahead of a general election next year.
“The government will be criticized, especially by international institutions ... who will say that the government is pressuring freedom of expression in Cambodia,” he said.