18 Activists to Be Released Monday, Lawyer Says

Following negotiations between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, the country’s courts are preparing to release 18 activists who have been imprisoned over the past year on protest-related charges and convictions, a lawyer for the CNRP said Friday.

Chuong Choungy, a longtime attorney for the opposition, said that he met with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court director on Thursday and filed documents with the Appeal Court in order to facilitate the release of the activists by Monday, the day before the start of the Khmer New Year holiday. 

“Based on my prediction, they will be released on Monday evening. This is the political resolution between the leadership of the CPP and CNRP,” Mr. Choungy said.

“It is due to cooperation regarding the political problem in order for the political situation to get better because the top leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party and Samdech prime minister have good relations, so all people that were involved with political issues will be released,” he said.

Word of the planned release comes the day after lawmakers from the CPP and CNRP approved all nine members of the reformed National Election Committee, finalizing a central component of the July political deal that ended the opposition’s 10-month boycott of parliament.

The 18 prisoners include 10 land-rights activists—including Tep Vanny and eight other members of the Boeng Kak community—and five CNRP activists charged with involvement in an insurrection over a protest that turned violent in July. Three monks imprisoned after taking part in separate protests are also set to be freed, according to opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang.

“Now they are doing the paperwork to send to the court to release all of them,” he said. “For Boeng Kak people, they will be pardoned, and [CNRP official] Meach Sovannara’s group will ask for bail and the three monks will also ask for bail.”

You Bunleng, president of the Appeal Court, said the court had already signed off on the pardon of the 10 land-rights activists, who were arrested and quickly convicted following protests in November.

“We received this case and we signed it already,” he said, referring further questions to the Ministry of Justice, whose spokesman could not be reached.

Mr. Choungy, the lawyer, said the only step remaining to secure the pardon was the signature of King Norodom Sihamoni, or the acting head of state if the king does not return from Beijing before Monday.

Oum Daravuth, an adviser to the royal family, said he did not know when the king planned to return to the country.

Taing Sunlay, director of the municipal court, confirmed that the CNRP’s legal team filed a request for a bail hearing on Monday, but said it would be up to the trial judges to decide how to move forward.

“They filed a bail request with the court’s administration and the court’s administration also received it, but it depends on the trial judges’ decision,” he said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he was “optimistic” that the prisoners would be released soon, and said Mr. Hun Sen had become increasingly receptive to his continued requests to have the activists freed.

“Each time I have the opportunity to talk with the prime minister, I raise this issue but lately the prime minister has been responsive,” Mr. Rainsy said. “I am optimistic that all those who are detained will finally be released or bailed out in the near future.”

However, the opposition leader declined to confirm any of the details of the negotiations with Mr. Hun Sen.

“I don’t want to elaborate on this, I prefer to see the result first before making any comment. Now, we are just working hard to get all the prisoners released as soon as possible,” he said.

Spokesmen for the CPP said they could not confirm the agreement.

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, said claims that the various arrests had been political were confirmed by the circumstances of the planned releases, but that he hoped such claims would not cause Mr. Hun Sen to change his mind.

“People say already during the arrests and during the detention it is a politically motivated case and the court is being used to make people’s life miserable. It just becomes obvious now,” he said.

“But I don’t want this to get in the way of their release.”

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren and Khuon Narim)

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