Updated: November 17, 2021 07:39 AM GMT
Kak Sovann Chhay, a teenage boy with autism given a suspended sentence over Telegram messages that were deemed insulting to the Cambodian government, gestures as his mother Prum Chantha cries after he was released from Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh on Nov. 10. (Photo: AFP)
A global rights body has urged the European Union (EU) to press Cambodia into freeing all political prisoners from its jails ahead of the annual Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) to be held in Phnom Penh later this month.
The meeting is part of the annual summits held by the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Cambodia is chairing for the next 12 months.
“The EU, US, donors and other friends of Cambodia should press Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the cynical game of revolving prison doors where some people are released and others take up their places in the same prison cells,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
He said governments, in particular EU participants in ASEM, should pressurize the Cambodian government to drop the conditions imposed on those released and unconditionally free all remaining political prisoners.
“The release of 26 wrongfully detained political prisoners is good news, but there is nothing to stop the Cambodian authorities from rearresting them at any time,” said Adams.
Last year the EU withdrew trade perks under its Everything but Arms policy in response to a deterioration in democratic standards after the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won every seat contested at the elections held in 2018.
Last week Thailand forcibly returned to Cambodia two political opposition activists who were registered as refugees
That was made possible by the court dissolution of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) in late 2017. Since then more than 100 supporters have been arrested on charges ranging from incitement to treason and insulting the monarch.
Between Nov. 5 and 12, authorities released 26 political prisoners but did not drop the charges against them, making them subject to future arrest and imprisonment.
Among those released were political, environmental and youth activists, including members of the group Mother Nature Cambodia, Khmer Thavrak, opposition party activists, union leader Rong Chhun and “Friday Women” protesters.
HRW said more than 60 political prisoners remain in custody and include opposition activists, land rights activists, journalists and people arrested for critical posts on social media.
Last week Thailand forcibly returned to Cambodia two political opposition activists who were registered as refugees with the United Nations Refugee Agency. HRW said they now face trial and long prison sentences in Cambodia on politically motivated charges.
Hun Sen recently warned that his government “will do what it takes to crack down” on dissidents planning protests against his authoritarian rule when Cambodia takes its turn chairing the ASEAN in 2022.
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