A Long Beach resident who was a Cambodian opposition party activist was released along with 13 others from a Cambodian prison Tuesday after Prime Minister Hun Sen requested a royal pardon.
Meach Sovannara was serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted in 2015 of insurrection in connection with anti-government street protests in 2014 that turned into violent clashes with police and security forces, according to Radio Free Asia.
Rights groups say that none of the defendants was identified as having committed an act of violence during the event.
Twelve of the 14, including Sovannara, signed a letter of apology to Hun Sen in which they said they regretted joining the protests and vowed never to do so again.
The pardon was requested after Hun Sen’s party returned to power in an election that was considered rigged.
Sovannara was the media director for the now-defunct opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which Hun Sen dissolved ahead of the elections. Hun Sen’s party won all 125 seats in the election. Sovannara has dual U.S. and Cambodian citizenship, and his family still lives in Long Beach.
Some 300 people had gathered in front of Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh late into Tuesday night, after Sovannara’s wife posted news on her Facebook page that former Cambodia National Rescue Party officials and activists would be released.
“I’m so excited that my husband, Meach Sovannara, and others are changing clothes and filling out forms for their release,” his wife said in a Facebook post, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Long Beach is home to the largest group of people of Cambodian descent outside Southeast Asia.
In September 2017, almost 300 members of Long Beach’s Cambodian community gathered at City Hall to protest the Cambodian government’s actions that appeared to be aimed at suppressing critical voices before the 2018 elections. Hun Sen had held his position for 20 years and has stated his intentions to keep it, despite reports of declining support for his party, the Cambodian People’s Party.