The U.S. Department of State and the European Union joined calls on Monday for the release of jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha, who is facing charges of treason that could see him spend decades behind bars if he is found guilty.
“We note with grave concern the Cambodian government’s arrest of Kem Sokha, a respected leader of the political opposition, on a number of charges that appear to be politically motivated. Kem Sokha has a long, distinguished, and internationally recognized commitment to human rights and peaceful democracy,” the State Department said in a statement.
“This government move follows a number of troubling recent steps, including the imposition of unprecedented restrictions on independent media and civil society. These measures undercut Cambodia's progress in recent decades and raise serious questions about the government's ability to organize credible national elections in 2018 which produces an outcome that enjoys democratic legitimacy.”
In a separate statement, the E.U. said Sokha’s arrest was in “breach of his parliamentary immunity” and “marks a dangerous political escalation.”
“Along with recent actions by the authorities against NGOs and some media organizations, this arrest suggests a further effort to restrict the democratic space in Cambodia and the space for independent reporting, comment and criticism,” it said.
“We ... expect the authorities of Cambodia to respect the right to due process of all Cambodians and of organizations operating in Cambodia. In view of his parliamentary immunity, we expect the authorities to release Kem Sokha immediately.”
Sokha was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on the night of 2-3 September along with a number of close associates shortly after midnight and accused of “conspiring with foreigners” to destabilize Cambodia.
In a video clip released by the government purporting to show Sokha speaking to supporters in Australia some years ago, the CNRP president says he was told by U.S. representatives that in a democratic society change must come from below.
The CNRP in a statement on Sunday called for Sokha’s immediate release and condemned the arrest of a lawmaker in violation of his constitutional immunity.
The party said the arrest “was politically motivated and an act of violating the law and constitutional law.”