Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha (66) was released from house arrest, on Sunday. He was detained for two years, on charges of treason. Though out of detention, and allowed to travel anywhere in the country, he is barred from leaving Cambodia or indulging in any political activity, the Phnom Penh Municipal court, ruled. He was released because "he has been cooperative with the authorities," the court said,
His release came a day after another opposition leader and co-founder of his now banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy, who was in self-exile in Paris, flew to Malaysia, with the aim to enter Cambodia. Pressure has been mounting, especially from the EU, on the Cambodian authoritarian leader Hun Sen, who has been ruling the country with an iron fist, since 1985.
The south-east Asian nation generates huge revenue from exporting garments and footwear, major chunk of which is imported, duty-free by the EU, under the Everything But Arms agreement. It's on the condition that the country meets democratic and human rights standards.
Kem Sokha was arrested in September, 2017, on the charges of treason. Allegations were leveled against him that he was planning a coup against Sen, with US backing. This was on the basis of a 2013 video clip, in which Sokha was telling an audience in Australia that he was receiving political support and advice from the US.
On the day of his arrest, Cambodia Daily published its last edition with the image of the arrested politician on its front page, with 'Descent Into Outright Dictatorship' written on top. The newspaper was shut after that. The authoritarian leader has taken several steps to stifle the media and his opposition.
Just before the country headed for elections, Kem Sokha's party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was outlawed in November 2017. In the elections in 2018, Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won all 125 National Assembly seats. This was expected, as with curbs on independent media and all major opposition leaders in prison, Hun Sen was the sole winner.
After his release on Sunday, the opposition leader urged for the charges against him to be dropped, as Reuters reported. "As an innocent person who has been jailed for two years, I continue to demand that the charges against me be dropped," Kem Sokha wrote in a Facebook post. "I expect today's decision to be the first step, but I, as well as many Cambodians who have lost political freedom, still need real solutions and justice", he added.