The recent release of Cambodia’s former opposition leader into house arrest does not go far enough to appease critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, according to US Congressman Alan Lowenthal.
Sokha was released from prison on health grounds this week after more than a year in pre-trial detention on treason charges. He is now placed under house arrest and is still denied access to his former colleagues at the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was banned in November.
“I am relieved that Kem Sokha has been released. I wish him the very best and hope his health improves quickly. The case against Kem Sokha is yet another example of the abuses of power by the authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen to dismantle any and all political opposition prior to the recent national election,” Lowenthal said.
“Now that Hun Sen has emerged victorious from the sham election he engineered, he believes that the international community will reward him for his seeming beneficence after the fact. We will not. We will continue to advocate for free and fair elections that the Cambodian people were promised, and we will hold the Hun Sen regime accountable for its attacks on Cambodian democracy.
“More than ever, the Cambodian Democracy Act, which imposes sanctions on the Hun Sen government and passed the U.S. House in July, needs to be immediately brought up and passed in the U.S. Senate.”
Steve Chabot, a Republican lawmaker for Ohio, echoed Lowenthal’s remarks.
“Since Hun Sen began his most recent round of abuses I have called for a strong response. Of course, I am pleased that Kem Sokha was released, but the bogus charges against him have not been dropped and he has little freedom of movement. Without real changes, this is not a step towards democracy, rather a ploy in a tyrants playbook,” he said.
Sokha is the highest-profile of almost two dozen activists, journalists, and academics jailed in the lead-up to the July election, most of whom have either been released on bail or pardoned in recent weeks after the ruling party won every seat in the National Assembly.
Sophal Ear, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the release of Kem Sokha on bail was, however, a good sign.
“This is a positive development, especially since it looks like he was headed to another six months of arbitrary detention. I believe his health condition was such that to continue holding him like that could lead to some serious problems, the worst-case scenario is if anything happened to him while in detention,” he said.
Ear who also the author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy” and the “The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Resources Quest is Reshaping the World”, said that US Congress will continue to move the Cambodia Democracy Bill ahead.
In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Cambodian government should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights.
“Cambodia has jailed a Who’s Who of prominent critics of Hun Sen and his ruling party,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “The government should immediately release all political prisoners and drop all charges, including against opposition leader Kem Sokha. Hun Sen should commit to ending the arrest of critics, which he continues to use to prop up his dictatorial rule.”
However, Cambodian government’s spokesman Phay Siphan said on his Facebook page that the release of Kem Sokha and others was under the remit of Cambodia’s court system.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia does not have the position to violently act to intimidate and made the arrests. The court carries out its functions and jurisdiction like in other countries.”