Cambodia’s Political Prisoners Urge The Opposition to Stay Strong

More than a dozen political prisoners held in Cambodia's notorious Prey Sar prison urged the opposition party to put the national interest before their personal freedom, a Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker told reporters on Wednesday.

"I respect their great devotion and patriotism as always they have never thought about their own personal happiness," CNRP Member of Parliament Mao Monivann said after a visit with the 17 opposition politicians and activists held at the prison.

"They think about the national interest first," he added. "Such patriotism is the hope for all Khmer citizens."

The meeting comes as opposition lawmakers and members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) are expected to meet sometime after Jan. 11 to discuss a wide range of issues, including the incarceration of the political prisoners.

While Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who also serves as deputy prime minister and majority leader of the ruling party in the National Assembly, has promised to convene the meeting, there are questions about his seriousness to enter into discussions.

Hopes that at least some of the prisoners would be released were raised when CNRP leader Kem Sokha and a local Cambodia National Rescue Party official Seang Chet were granted royal pardons in the government's case against the CNRP leader.

Those hopes may have faded after evidence surfaced that the CPP was attempting to use some of the prisoners as bargaining chips in the ruling party's attempts to divide the opposition.

After a one-hour trial on Sept. 9, Kem Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison and an 800,000- riel (U.S. $200) fine for failing to appear in one of the cases related to the government's wide-ranging probe into his alleged affair with a young hairdresser.

Seang Chet was sentenced to five years in prison on Dec. 5 for giving $500 to the mother of the hairdresser Khom Chandaraty, in what the government said was an attempt to keep the woman quiet about her alleged affair with Kem Sokha.

Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, all workers for ADHOC (the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association) and National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya have been imprisoned since April.

They are also accused of attempting to pay hush money to Kem Sokha's purported mistress in the government's wide-ranging probe into the alleged affair that many inside and outside of Cambodia see as politically motivated.

While Sar Kheng told reporters on Dec. 7 that he expected the five to be freed in late 2016 or early 2017, but recently he dismissed questions about their release, saying it was under the purview of the courts.

"We still have plans for the talks, but we don't know when yet since we have a lot of works to do early this year," he told RFA on Jan 2.

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