King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday, absolving him of a conviction for refusing to appear in court for questioning over a related “prostitution” case involving his alleged mistress.
Mr. Sokha was sentenced in September to five months in jail for refusing to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as a witness in a case widely derided as a politically motivated effort by the government to muzzle the opposition.
However, on Friday the king issued a royal decree pardoning Mr. Sokha.
The decree declares “a pardon for inmate Kem Sokha, male, 63 year-old, who was sentenced by the court to imprisonment for refusing to appear under the power of criminal judgment of the Court of Appeal dated November 4, 2016.”
Mr. Sokha wrote to the prime minister on Thursday requesting he intervene by requesting a pardon from the king.
“We all are Khmer who have suffered and lost many things we love,” Mr. Sokha wrote in the letter, posted online on Friday by Khmer-language news website Fresh News.
“I also understand that Cambodia’s past internal disputes, we have settled through national reconciliation and unity between Khmer and Khmer despite having different political agendas,” he wrote.
Mr. Hun Sen penned a letter to the king on Friday asking him “to grant a royal decree to pardon inmate Kem Sokha, who was sentenced by the court.”
The case stemmed from recorded telephone conversations, allegedly of Mr. Sokha engaging in conversations of a sexual nature with a woman who was later identified as 25-year-old manicurist Khom Chandaraty.
Under questioning in court over prostitution charges recommended by the anti-terrorism police, Ms. Chandaraty admitted to having an affair with Mr. Sokha, who refused to appear as a witness in the case. As a result, the deputy opposition leader was prosecuted and sentenced to five months in jail in September.
An appeal was rejected last month by the Court of Appeal, and Mr. Sokha’s lawyers said they would wait until this month to appeal to the Supreme Court. The prime minister has previously said that he was helpless to offer any help to Mr. Sokha until the case was settled by the top court.
Mr. Sokha has been holed up in the CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh since May, leaving only once to register to vote in next year’s commune elections.