Prime minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday that Kem Sokha’s release on court-supervised bail was a “humanitarian” act to provide “safety” for the former opposition leader.
But Ou Chanrath, a former lawmaker in Sokha’s Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) dismissed the claims, saying the move was a “politically motivated” decision to lessen pressure from the international community.
Sokha, the former CNRP president, was arrested in November for treason. Many Western countries and international human rights organisations have demanded his release on grounds that his arrest was arbitrary.
Cambodian law does not clearly allow for detention under house arrest, but Hun Sen explained that Sokha’s release to his home under strict bail conditions was to provide “safety” for him as he is suffering from health problems.
Speaking to more than 27,400 garment workers from 24 factories in Kampong Speu province on Wednesday, Hun Sen suggested drafting legislation to allow house arrest.
“Sometimes the punishment is lightened for the defendant’s safety. We cared about it, but some went so far as to say it was because of international pressure. No! It’s the court’s right. It was just a transfer to a certain place,” the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) president said.
“I will shed some light on the issue,” he went on. “The other day, [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng mentioned it, but today I just want to say that the charge was not dropped – we just changed the location."
“If he was to die in prison, it would cause a lot of trouble for the government. It was a humanitarian act to provide safety for the defendant – we cannot call him a convict."
“In our country, there is no law allowing house arrest. [But] the court can choose a location for people to stay, so the court chose his home. In the future, we [may] prepare laws allowing the detention of persons inside their homes.”
Hun Sen again stressed that he will not bow to any foreign nation in preserving the Kingdom’s independence and sovereignty.
“We have to preserve our country’s independence and sovereignty, and nobody can order us around ... I will not bow to anybody. If we agree, we will work together; if we disagree, we will stop ... There will be no need to talk more. In this world, no one can put pressure on another country,” he said.
‘A better situation’
Chanrath said Sokha’s legal team had requested the release of their client on numerous occasions, so he believed the bailing of Sokha to his home at this time was “politically motivated”.
“I still believe there was pressure which led to a lighter punishment – Sokha being detained at his house."
“At least it is a better situation than before [in prison]. Allow him to be at home and receive medical treatment. Let him stay with his wife and children and see his mother. It’s a bit better than before. [Sokha’s] safety is important, but it has been used as an excuse,” he said.
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said bail was granted in accordance with the requests of Sokha and his lawyers.
“More opinions from the opposing side – I think that whatever we do would not please them."
We don’t have laws for house arrest, but ... but we wanted to help regarding his health problems, to avoid further health problems,” he said.
Political analyst Hang Vitou said that, while Sokha not being in prison was a positive development, his release on bail under strict conditions could be seen as being “only for appearances”.
“I believe allowing Kem Sokha to be detained outside of prison is good. First of all, it allows him to have more freedom and have his family look after him."
“Secondly, I understand that after his release, his health is getting better. The problem is that his release can still result in criticism from a moral standpoint ... because in reality, he is not fully free."
“A release of this kind will not ease the situation, as the international community, as well as the general public, may still criticise because they believe the release was made only for appearances,” Vitou said.