Cambodian opposition leader released but put under house arrest

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Hundreds of supporters of the leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party Kem Sokha gathered outside his house on Monday after he was released on bail after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges.

FILE PHOTO - Cambodia's opposition leader and President of the National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha talks during an interview with Reuters in Prey Veng province, Cambodia May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring/File Picture

“He was released on bail and he is under monitoring by the court,” government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters.

Kem Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, said her 65-year-old father has been placed under house arrest and was in poor health and needed medical attention.

“He has high blood sugar and he needs a long overdue surgery on his left shoulder,” she said.

Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen had been under pressure to release Kem Sokha following a July general election won by his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Kem Sokha, leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested and accused of treason last September as part of a government-led crackdown against critics, including the CNRP.

He had been in pre-trial detention since then, held at a remote prison near Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP last year at the request of Hun Sen’s government in a ruling that supporters of the CNRP said was politically motivated.

Former CNRP president Eng Chhai Eang wrote on his Facebook page that Kem Sokha was released from prison and “has arrived at his home”. CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua said Kem Sokha had arrived home “a few hours ago”.

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“We don’t know much more,” she told Reuters.

Hundreds of supporters and media gathered outside Kem Sokha’s Phnom Penh home on Monday. The gates to his home stayed closed and a lawyer for Kem Sokha said he would not be meeting with supporters anytime soon.

“Under these circumstances, to all supporters, please understand that he can’t meet you,” Chan Chen told reporters gathered outside the house.

Hun Sen’s CPP won all 125 parliamentary seats in the July vote, which the United Nations and some Western countries have said was flawed because of the lack of a credible opposition, among other factors.

The CNRP, which had 118 of its members banned from politics for five years following the party’s dissolution, had urged supporters to boycott the vote, which it said was a farce.

Invalid and spoilt ballots accounted for 8.4 per cent of the 7.64 million votes cast, representing a protest against the election, the opposition and analysts have said.

Observers say Hun Sen has been relaxing his stance against critics since the July win, which secured him another five years in power.

Fourteen government critics were freed from jail last month in a move some saw as meant to appease foreign criticism of the election.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said Kem Sokha’s release on bail was an attempt by Hun Sen to “legitimize the illegitimate”, referring to the July election.

“His release, only after Prime Minister Hun Sen has shored up control of the parliament and country through a fake election, portrays a government seeking to legitimize the illegitimate,” APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago said in a statement.

“We welcome Kem Sokha’s release from prison detention, but it is far from all that is required: while there remains only one political party in Parliament and no viable opposition, and until free and fair elections are held, the international community must continue to see this government for what it is - a dictatorship.”

Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Samrang Pring; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Peter Cooney, Paul Tait and Michael Perry