BANGKOK – A total of 158 lawmakers from 23 countries, including the United States, Spain and Argentina, asked the Cambodian government to release Kem Sokha, leader of the main opposition party, in an open letter on Monday.
They also urged Cambodia to ensure that the upcoming general elections are free and fair.
“Kem Sokha’s detention is clearly politically motivated, and the government has presented no credible evidence of the absurd charges levied against him,” Malaysian legislator Charles Santiago, Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), and one of the letter’s signatories, said in a statement.
“Along with 157 of my colleagues from countries around the globe, from Argentina to South Africa to Malaysia, we are asking the Cambodian government to take steps to reverse course by unconditionally releasing Kem Sokha and allowing him and his party to participate freely in politics,” he said, adding that otherwise the 2018 elections will be illegitimate.
“The government’s onslaught against the opposition, independent media, civil society, and the rule of law itself must stop, and we need to see proof of that,” said another signatory, Congressman Tom Villarin of the Philippines.
Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was arrested on Sept. 3 over charges of treason.
On Nov. 16, the Cambodian Supreme Court had also ordered the dissolution of the CNRP and imposed a five-year political ban on 118 of its members.
The court’s decision, which cannot be appealed, was based on an amendment approved by the parliament in February to a law governing political parties in the country, with provisions for barring candidates with criminal records and dissolving parties whose leaders have been convicted in court.
Last week, Amnesty International had said that, since the municipal elections in June, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has “carried out a widespread and relentless onslaught against civil society, critical media and the political opposition, silencing one independent voice after another,” and urged the international community to intervene to protect democracy in Cambodia.
The Cambodian People’s Party, led by Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, had managed to secure a tight win in the last general elections in 2013.