PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha was released from jail early yesterday 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 the wily 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 the capital, where he returned in the early hours of Monday morning 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 Phnom Penh 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 told AFP, suggesting his movements will be restricted in some way.