Cambodian politician Kem Sokha freed from house arrest

But opposition leader held for treason can't leave country or take part in political activity

Cambodia freed opposition leader Kem Sokha from house arrest on Sunday, amid EU deliberations over whether to punish a crackdown against the country's opposition by removing preferential trade terms
Mr Kem Sokha was accused of treason while he was president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Mr Kem Sokha was accused of treason while he was president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

A Cambodian court yesterday freed opposition leader Kem Sokha from house arrest while his self-exiled colleagues - facing arrest warrants back home - met in Kuala Lumpur.

The conditional release, however, was seen as insufficient by Mr Sokha's supporters, and some observers linked it to an attempt to dissuade the European Union from withdrawing trade privileges from Cambodia.

Mr Sokha was arrested and accused of treason in 2017, while he was president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Weeks later, the CNRP was dissolved and its key members banned from politics, paving the way for a clean sweep of all parliamentary seats by Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in the general election last year.

With his case still pending, Mr Sokha was released on bail in September last year but not allowed to meet his former CNRP colleagues or travel beyond the vicinity of his Phnom Penh home.

Yesterday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court lifted earlier restrictions on Mr Sokha, but banned him from leaving the country as well as any political activity.

A post on Mr Sokha's Facebook account yesterday read: "I continue to demand that the charges against me be dropped. I expect today's decision to be the first step, but I, as well as many other Cambodians who have lost their political freedom, still need real solutions and justice."

CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy, who is in Kuala Lumpur, wrote on Facebook that the release of Mr Sokha was "a small step in the right direction."

He similarly called for the charge against Mr Sokha to be dropped, and the CNRP - which won 44.5 per cent of the vote in the 2013 election - to be reinstated.


Mr Rainsy, an arch-rival of Prime Minister Hun Sen, fled to France in 2015 to avoid jail for defamation, but announced earlier this year that he would return to Cambodia by last Saturday, the country's Independence Day, via the Thai-Cambodian border. But he was turned away at the airport when he tried to board a plane bound for Thailand last week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2019, with the headline 'Cambodian politician freed from house arrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe