Cambodia’s Hun Sen Denies Plan to Free Opposition Leader Kem Sokha

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen denied on Wednesday he has plans to free opposition leader Kem Sokha, rejecting comments made on Facebook by former opposition chief Sam Rainsy, who said the move will be made in December.

No, I won't release him, Hun Sen said, addressing a gathering of hundreds of workers in southwestern Cambodia's Takeo province and adding that the former opposition leader, now living in exile in France, believes Kem Sokha will be freed in response to international pressure.

Because Kem Sokha has not yet been convicted of a crime, the prime minister has no power to apply to Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni for a pardon that would free him, Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen also rejected a suggestion made by Sam Rainsy that Kem Sokha, arrested in September 2017 for treason charges widely seen as politically motivated, would be released on Dec. 29 during a 20-year anniversary celebration of Hun Sen's Win Win Policy taking credit for the ending in 1998 of a long-running civil war.

Please wait and see, Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen said.

Reached by RFA's Khmer Service, Kem Sokha's lawyer Peng Heng declined to comment on the case.

Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile for nearly three years to avoid a string of convictions by courts seen as beholden to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, stepped down as head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in February last year to prevent a state-ordered dissolution of the party.

But the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP anyway in November, saying the party had played a role in an alleged plot by Kem Sokha to overthrow the government, and opposition candidates were banned from taking part in the country's July 29, 2018 general election, which Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won handily in the absence of a viable political opposition.

Hun Sen, who secured another five-year term to add to his 33 years in office after official election results were announced on Aug. 15, has made a practice of heavy-handed crackdowns on his critics, followed by a relaxation of restrictions after facing international condemnation.

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