Former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha was released from prison on Monday on court-supervised bail due to unspecified health conditions, with one of his lawyers saying the conditions set were so strict they amounted to house arrest.
The opposition figure was released at 3am on Monday from Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province, where he was being held awaiting trial on treason charges. He arrived at his home in Phnom Penh after having served over a year in pre-trial detention.
Sokha’s lawyer Meng Sopheary told The Post on Monday that even though the court decision did not explicitly call it such, the bail conditions it set gave his client such limited freedom that it was effectively house arrest.
“The court’s decision did not say he is under house arrest, but Sokha’s freedom of movement is [severely] curtailed due to the fact that the investigative judge set such limitations, meaning he can only walk within a [small area] which the court has mapped out for him."
“Therefore, what his daughter said was almost correct,” Sopheary said, referring to a comment made to him by Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya, who said her father was effectively under house arrest.
However, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin denied Sokha was under house arrest. “It is his right whether or not to stay in his house,” he said. “What is important is that he has to respect the conditions laid out by the court.”
He said it was the right of the investigative judge to lay down conditions when granting bail.
“The release on bail under the supervision of the court came following a legal procedure. It did not free him from the charges, meaning court procedures are continuing until the case goes to trial,” Malin said.
Sokha used one of his lawyers to apologise to supporters who had gathered outside his home on Monday for not being able to meet them.
Chan Chen, who had visited Sokha at his house, said: “[Sokha] would like to say sorry to Cambodians and supporters who wish to meet him.
“At this moment he would like to excuse himself as he is unable to meet them."
“As a lawyer,” he added, “I applaud this [development] and keep to our stance: only national reconciliation and unity can solve [the Kingdom’s political] problems. As Cambodian citizens, at this moment we [are glad] to see him out of jail.”
According to court documents dated Thursday and made public by under court supervision due to an unspecified “health condition”.
“Besides [Sokha’s] home ... the charged person must not leave the demarcation of the territory marked [out]. In the case of a health emergency which requires leaving this border, [the charged person] has to ask for permission from the investigative judge or a judge who is authorised,” Rithy ruled, with the acknowledgement of prosecutor Sieng Sok, who brought the charge against Sokha.
The investigative judge also ordered that Sokha must not meet with certain individuals, such as “former leaders of the CNRP and individuals who are linked to the court case and foreigners, especially foreigners who are connected to the case”.
The judge also banned Sokha from any meeting that held a political purpose and from engaging in any other type of political activity. The authorities were ordered to inform the court if Sokha were to break the conditions of his bail.
“If the charged person fails to meet the conditions [of his release] under the supervision of the court, the investigative judge can decide to order the charged person’s return to pre-trial detention,” the court documents said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said it was not just a coincidence that Sokha’s release came at a sensitive time for Cambodia in its relationship with the international community.
“[Sokha’s release] is connected with honouring [Hun Sen’s] obligations under the Everything But Arms [EBA] agreement with the EU, which is demanding Kem Sokha’s release, with the US sanctions and his forthcoming trips successively to attend the UN General Assembly in New York and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels.
“He might well be shunned and shamed at those international forums,” he said.
But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan denied all claims that Sokha’s release was due to international pressure. He said the court had made it clear that it was purely down to Sokha’s poor health.
Additional reporting by Voun Dara