Cambodia has freed a prominent opposition figure from house arrest more than two years after he was charged with treason, a court spokesman said yesterday, after attempts by his colleagues to return to the country were thwarted.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1985.
He was sent to a remote prison, then confined to his house and the surrounding block and prohibited from talking to the media.
However, “he can travel nationwide now,” Y Rin, a Phnom Penh municipal court spokesman, told reporters.
Sokha is the cofounder of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved ahead of controversial elections swept by Hun Sen last year.
The new court ruling, which cited health concerns, forbids the 66-year-old from leaving Cambodia or joining political activities.
Rights groups have said Cambodia’s legal system is controlled by Hun Sen’s government.
Sokha yesterday said that he was innocent and demanded the charges be dropped.
“I miss Khmer people so much and I will visit people in the very near future,” he wrote on Facebook, adding that he would give more details on his plans later.
The decision came as Sokha’s political partner Sam Rainsy is waylaid in Malaysia with other party officials after attempting a highly publicized comeback on Nov. 9, Cambodia’s independence day.
Rainsy, who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions he said are politically motivated, had promised a dramatic return.
However, after being barred in Paris on Thursday from getting on a flight to Thailand, Rainsy boarded a plane a day later and arrived in Kuala Lumpur.
It is unclear how he would get back to the country and for now he plans to meet with Malaysian lawmakers this week.
Hun Sen is under international pressure to ease restrictions on dissent as the EU considers revoking a duty-free tariff scheme for Cambodia’s lucrative garment sector.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights board member and former Philippine lawmaker Teddy Baguilat called the court ruling misleading and an attempt to ward off sanctions.
“This is just another cynical move by Hun Sen to try and hoodwink the international community,” he said.
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