A former opposition official who was released from prison this week has said he will return to politics and challenge the unopposed rule of the Cambodian People’s Party.
Meach Sovannara, the former public affairs chief of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was released from prison along with 13 fellow party activists on Tuesday.
The CNRP supporters and former officials were jailed on various charges for taking part in anti-government protests after the 2013 election. In November, the CNRP was dissolved and its leader, Kem Sokha, jailed on treason charges. The CPP won all 125 seats in parliament in a general election last month, making the first time since 1993 that a Cambodian government will be formed in the absence of an opposition voice in parliament.
“We do politics ... and challenge each other’s policies for the national interest and political economy,” Sovannara said. “We do not abuse [each other] nor arrest people and jail them. From now on, I would like to call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the culture of [politically motivated] arrest and prison.”
He added that he plans to seek a meeting with King Norodom Sihamoni, Hun Sen, and Interior Minister Sar Kheng to discuss the treatment he received in prison.
A CPP spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Sovannara praised Hun Sen for ordering the release of the 14 CNRP members but added that Sokha should also be released.
"I call on Prime Minister Hun Sen and the King with a smile. I hope that Prime Minister Hun Sen will consider even through rule of law or the court, but I hope that my party leader Kem Sokha will be released without charge,” he said.
Sovannara and the 13 other CNRP members were arrested in 2014 for leading a protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, which became a center-point for anti-government rallies after the disputed 2013 election. Sovannara was sentenced to 20 years while the other CNRP members received sentences ranging from seven to 20 years.
Several other high-profile public figures jailed by the CPP have also been pardoned since the election in July, notably Tep Vanny, a prominent land rights activists, and two former journalists for Radio Free Asia, Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin. Kim Sok, an outspoken government critic, was also released last week, along with Sourn Serey Rotha, a former opposition party leader, and Um Saman, a former CNRP lawmaker.