Cambodian opposition party leader Kem Sokha has been released from prison on bail, almost a year after he was detained on charges of treason, according state news agency Agence Kampuchea Press Monday.
Sokha, head of the outlawed opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), had been held in solitary confinement since arrest in September last year, following a sweeping government crackdown on opposition groups and media.
A June report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared Sokha’s detention as “politically motivated,” and called for the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him from pre-trial detention.
Sokha is believed to suffer from a number of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, shoulder pain, and diabetes, according to rights groups who have campaigned on his behalf.
An August report by Human Rights Watch said Sokha’s condition had deteriorated since his imprisonment and he now had difficulty standing for long periods of time.
“The Cambodian government obviously recognized the public relations disaster that would occur if something happened to him in detention, and finally heeded his wife’s appeals to release him on his own recognizance for health reasons,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, Monday.
“But there are limits to his freedom, the bogus charges against him still stand, and he must appear in court whenever prosecutors snap their fingers,” said Robertson.
“Despite the excitement connected to today’s release, we’re still a long way from a meaningful restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Cambodia,” he added.
Sokha, who was accused of conspiring with foreign powers to bring down the Cambodian government, was once viewed as a viable contender to replace the country’s authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than 30 years.
The CNRP, the party Sokha once led, was dissolved by the county’s Supreme Court in November last year. The CNRP had been the country’s biggest opposition party and won three million votes, or around 44% of the total, during the previous general elections in 2013. They accused the ruling party of cheating and the country was rocked by massive protests.
The Supreme Court also banned more than 100 members of the CNRP from politics for five years, effectively paving the way for Hun Sen’s governing Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to run unopposed in the national elections in July this year.
In statement, the White House labeled the July vote, in which the CPC won all 125 parliamentary seats, as “neither free nor fair” adding that it “failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people.”