The Beginning of the End of Kem Sokha’s Ordeal in Cambodia?

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Hun Sen has softened his stance toward his main political rival. As usual, there is more than meets the eye.

It has been more than three years since Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested for treason, after the country’s government spuriously claimed that he was plotting of a U.S.-backed coup with his now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). His trial, once again postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, may not take place until 2021. But changes are afoot.

This week, Kem Sokha was allowed to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, and reportedly discussed the country’s human rights situation, even though his bail conditions forbid him from “engaging” in politics. This meeting came shortly after Prime Minister Hun Sen expressly ordered the authorities to let Kem Sokha join in the relief efforts for those affected by Cambodia’s recent deadly flooding. At first, it appeared that Cambodian officials were wary of letting Sokha donate money and visit flood-affected areas, ostensibly because they didn’t want to be seen as favorably treating someone accused of treason. More likely, they didn’t want to be seen as coddling the leader of a banned opposition party. Amid the pandemic and the floods, the government’s thugs have continued their violent reprisals on opposition supporters, as witnessed by a brutal beating and more arrests just this week. However, Hun Sen intervened and ordered his officials to allow Kem Sokha to donate money, hand out food and meet with ordinary people. In recent weeks, he has also been allowed to travel across Cambodia more freely.

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