Cambodia oppn leader freed from prison on bail

Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha was released from jail early on Monday a year after he was detained on treason charges, as the country’s strongman ruler loosens his grip on opponents after sweeping one-sided elections.
Over a 33-year rule, Hun Sen has tightened and relaxed his chokehold on opponents at will, most recently launching a broad crackdown in the run-up to July elections that gifted his ruling party an uncontested victory.
As part of that action, Kem Sokha, the head of the only serious opposition the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on September 3, 2017, and accused of treason.
The move took out one of the kingdom’s few outspoken political figures who can still pull a crowd.
The case against the 65-year-old was widely seen as politically motivated. Just two months later, the CNRP was dissolved by a court.
That paved the way for the ruling Cambodia People’s Party to win all 125 parliamentary seats in the election, turning the country into a one-party state and extending Hun Sen’s stay in office.
Dozens of supporters and media gathered outside Kem Sokha’s house in Phnom Penh, where he returned in the early hours of Monday after a year in a remote border prison.
He was bailed from pre-trial detention on condition that he does not flee “proceedings” against him, a court in Cambodia’s capital said in a statement.
The opposition figure still faces up to 30 years if convicted of treason.
His bail conditions state he must be “confined to a block radius of his residence,” his daughter Monovithya Kem said. A court-issued warrant seen by AFP showed a small triangle in downtown Phnom Penh that Sokha is not permitted to leave, and also barred the opposition leader from meeting with CNRP members and anyone else related to the case.
He also is not permitted to meet with any foreigners or host any rallies or political activities, the document said.
But the end to his prison ordeal — for now — was welcomed by supporters whose political views were muffled during the election period by Hun Sen’s repression. “We hope that from now Cambodians will have freedom to talk on all topics,” supporter Sun Socheat said.
The CNRP made major gains during a 2013 election, propelled by significant dissatisfaction among Cambodia’s large youth population, in a surprise showing that rattled Hun Sen.
But the party was then picked apart by Hun Sen, with many of its leading figures fleeing abroad. Kem Sokha’s predecessor Sam Rainsy lives in self-exile in Paris to escape a slew of charges that he says are politically motivated. — AFP