PHNOM PENH —
Five opposition party activists sentenced up to 20 years in prison for taking part in anti-government protests in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 election expect to remain behind bars after the Supreme Court rules on their case following a hearing this week.
However, Meach Sovannara, the most senior Cambodia National Rescue Party official jailed in 2014 among the five, said if CNRP leaders come to an agreement with Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of local elections in June they may be released regardless.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen holds the top three powers in his hand, so we do not expect the courts to provide justice,” he said, referring to the legislature, judiciary and executive branches of government.
Along with Sovannara, four party activists – Ouk Pich Samnang, San Seyhak, Ann Bakthorn and Tep Narith – were jailed after a demonstration in July 2014 in the capital when it turned violent.
They were each sentenced to between seven and 20 years in prison for the crime of “insurrection” and were not provided access to defense lawyers.
“The accusations against myself and the other activists made by the court are political, therefore a political resolution is the only hope for me to be released,” Sovannara said.
Talks between the two parties were due to be held on Wednesday but have since been postponed by Hun Sen, who said releasing detainees would not be up for discussion.
Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman, and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager of local rights group Licadho, agreed with Sovannara’s assessment that it would take a political breakthrough to ensure the release of the prisoners.
“If a country has a non-independent judicial system, it undermines access to fairness and equality,” he said.
“Citizens will lose faith in the justice system and then the justice system will only serve as a tool for political purposes.”
A verdict in the case is expected on Friday.