A commune chief sentenced to prison just three days ago in relation to a “prostitution” scandal targeting deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha received a royal pardon on Wednesday, while the CNRP said four human rights workers and an election official embroiled in the same case would be freed this month.
The royal pardon, dated Wednesday and signed by King Norodom Sihamoni, states that Seang Chet, the chief of a commune in Kompong Cham province, who was sentenced this week to five years in prison for delivering $500 to the mother of Mr. Sokha’s alleged mistress, should be released.
The decree “pardons prisoner Seang Chet, aged 44, whom the court sentenced to imprisonment for offering to bribe a witness,” it says, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen “must implement the decision.”
Mr. Chet’s pardon comes after his lawyer, Hem Socheat, said on Wednesday that he withdrew an appeal against the guilty verdict on Tuesday after receiving information from the CNRP that the party had asked the prime minister to request the pardon.
The immediate future of the four officers from rights group Adhoc and Ny Chakrya, the deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee (NEC), was less clear on Wednesday as Interior Minister Sar Kheng confirmed only that Mr. Hun Sen had agreed to a “resolution” for them during a meeting with Mr. Sokha.
Speaking to reporters at the National Assembly after his own meeting with Mr. Sokha, Mr. Kheng, the head of the ruling party’s lawmakers, confirmed that the prime minister had agreed to a settlement for the six.
“As I know, His Excellency Kem Sokha has talked with Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen] that maybe by the end of December there will be a resolution of the cases of human rights officials and the deputy secretary-general of the NEC,” he said.
Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy director of public affairs and Mr. Sokha’s daughter, tweeted that the other five would be released in the coming weeks.
“Imprisoned opposition commune chief, 4 rights workers and 1 election official will be free before end of this month,” she wrote.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he was uncertain of the time frame.
“Both parties try to do as much as possible, but I cannot tell what date they will be released,” he said. “But they will be released, I think, as soon as possible.”
All six were jailed in late April after becoming embroiled in a scandal widely believed to be politically motivated. They were accused of conspiring to bribe the alleged mistress of Mr. Sokha to deny an affair during questioning by police and the court, though they say they were simply offering legal or financial support.
The decision comes after King Sihamoni pardoned Mr. Sokha at the request of Mr. Hun Sen. Mr. Sokha had been holed up in the opposition headquarters since May and was sentenced to five months in prison in September for refusing to appear as a witness in the case, which stemmed from recorded telephone calls, allegedly of Mr. Sokha engaging in conversations of a sexual nature with a mistress.
The alleged mistress, 25-year-old manicurist Khom Chandaraty, initially denied that she was the woman in the recordings and received legal support from rights group Adhoc amid an investigation. However, she later changed her story under questioning and confessed to an affair with Mr. Sokha.
The four Adhoc officials—Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha and Yi Soksan—along with Mr. Chakrya, the election official and former Adhoc employee, had been in jail for 223 days as of Wednesday. They are among 27 political prisoners in the country, according to local rights group Licadho.
A “Black Monday” campaign seeking the release of the group began soon after their incarceration, which led to several activists being arrested while protesting in the streets.
Adhoc spokesman Sam Chankea welcomed the news of a possible release for his colleagues.
“We are really happy to hear this information. The Adhoc officials will return to work as soon as possible,” he said. “They have done this work professionally and are not involved with having political tendencies, so we ask the government to drop all charges.”
Despite initially claiming that Mr. Chet would be released on Wednesday, CNRP lawmaker Long Ry said last night that he would be required to spend one more night in his cell.
“He will be released from the prison tomorrow because the prison guards have not yet seen the royal decree,” he said.