In a Dec 4 response to King Norodom Sihanouk’s clemency request for Sok Yoeun, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote that he would not oppose a royal pardon, once the former opposition activist has been repatriated and tried for participation in the 1998 rocket propelled-grenade attack on Hun Sen’s motorcade in Siem Reap town.
The letter was printed in King Sihanouk’s monthly bulletin, issued Wednesday, along with his own Dec 3 letter that asked the premier to “please forgive Mr Sok Yoeun, who is badly ill and has been imprisoned for years in Thailand, to allow him to have freedom again.”
On Nov 28, a Thai appeals court ruled that the elderly and ailing Sok Yoeun should be returned from Bangkok, where he appealed for asylum in October 1999 and has been imprisoned since December 1999.
“If the court finds the accused Sok Yoeun to be guilty and sentenced, I think that I will not object to your proposal to give amnesty to him,” the prime minister wrote to the King.
The letter also said that, when Sok Yoeun returns to Cambodia, Hun Sen will “allow the Cambodian Human Rights Committee to cooperate with [Sok Yoeun’s] lawyer to ask the court for permission to stay out of detention and receive medical treatment under his family’s care.”
The grenade killed one bystander but harmed none of the prime minister’s entourage.
Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc, which is among the chorus calling the case politically charged, said Wednesday that although the King’s pardon could offer some protection, Sok Yoeun should be allowed to rejoin his family in a third country.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which granted refugee status to Sok Yoeun on Nov 16, 1999, has resettled his family in Finland.
To receive the King’s pardon, Sok Yoeun would have to return to Cambodia and stand trial, Thun Saray said.
“That is the problem for me,” he said. “The King has the right to give the pardon only to the convicted people.”
Thun Saray added that he was concerned about Sok Yoeun’s return causing turbulence that could upset the so far peaceful political standoff between the CPP and Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats.
“I don’t want to elaborate more. Everyone knows about this,” he said.
But opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay sounded untroubled Wednesday, saying Hun Sen has recognized that convicting a Sam Rainsy Party activist on trumped-up charges could only backfire.
“Everybody knows the Hun Sen government was accusing Sok Yoeun to defame Sam Rainsy. The effort has not been successful,” he said, citing the case’s condemnation by the UNHCR and numerous local and international human rights groups.
Son Chhay said the ruling party would not dare use Sok Yoeun to implicate other Sam Rainsy Party officials in the rocket attack, as it could encourage further investigation “into bad deeds Hun Sen has done in the past.”
Son Chhay also said the case should not further complicate negotiations for a new government. “They were hoping to use Sok Yoeun to put more pressure on the Sam Rainsy Party, but they’ve been testing the ground and given up,” he said.
Reports out of Bangkok have said that Sok Yoeun’s extradition would take place within 30 days of the Thai appeals court’s Nov 28 ruling.
But Om Yentieng, adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said Wednesday that the government has received no further details from Thailand on Sok Yoeun’s return.
Regarding the King’s pardon, he only said, “We respect his Majesty the King’s humanitarian heart.”