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US, Rights Workers Call for Charges Against Opposition Leader to Be Dropped

FILE - In this June 2, 2017, file photo, opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha greets his supporters at a rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Kem Sokha was released into house arrest after spending more than a year behind bars awaiting trial on treason charges.

The United States and two major international organizations have urged the Cambodian government to drop charges against the former leader of the country’s main opposition party, Kem Sokha, and release him from house arrest.

Sokha was released into house arrest after spending more than a year behind bars awaiting trial on treason charges.

Restrictions on Sokha remain in place, including a ban on him meeting with fellow Cambodia National Rescue Party members.

Emily Zeeberg, a US Embassy spokeswoman, said Washington continued to call for the dropping of all charges against Sokha and a return to dialogue.

“We continue to call on the government of Cambodia to drop all charges against Mr. Sokha, remove restrictions on the political rights of him and other opposition leaders, and engage opposition leaders in an urgent dialogue aimed at building genuine national reconciliation,” she said.

Speaking at the UN’s Human Rights Council on Monday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a former president of Chile, said: “The government should also release, and drop charges against, all other political actors, journalists, and ordinary citizens arrested or convicted for exercising their human rights.”

Minar Pimple, Amnesty International’s senior director of global operations also issued a statement, saying that Sokha was now “a prisoner in his own home.”

“We call on the Cambodian authorities to drop all charges against him and make his release permanent, full and unconditional. Following reports that he requires hospital care, we also urge authorities to grant him immediate access to adequate medical attention.”

But Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, dismissed the calls from the United States and rights workers.

“Cambodia is an independent state, a sovereign state. We do not have to be punished or even compelled to put pressure on the democratic process or the judicial process, which is the sovereign territory of Cambodia," he said.