A senator from Cambodia’s main opposition party was pardoned on Wednesday from the seven-year jail sentence he had been given over a Facebook posting, in a conciliatory sign from Prime Minister Hun Sen towards his opponents.
A crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has led to the arrest of party leader Kem Sokha on treason charges and a government push to have it dissolved completely. That has brought protests from Western donors.
Senator Hong Sok Hour, 59, was sentenced last year over a fake official document he had posted on Facebook saying that Cambodia and Vietnam had decided to dissolve their border.
It is a sensitive subject in Cambodia, where Hun Sen’s opponents have long accused him of being a Vietnamese puppet since he was put in his post in 1985 when Vietnam occupied Cambodia after ousting the genocidal Khmer Rouge.
Hong Sok Hour was pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni at Hun Sen’s request.
“He wrote a letter of apology to Samdech Decho and asked him to write to the king to issue a pardon,” Phay Siphan told Reuters, using Hun Sen’s official title. “He admitted his fault.”
Hun Sen’s critics accuse him of trying to turn the country into a one-party state for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and to ensure that he wins a general election next year without any effective challenge.
The opposition welcomed the pardon.
“This is a positive sign and each time there’s a royal pardon, the political situation calms down,” said Mu Sochua, a deputy to Kem Sokha who fled into exile fearing that she was about to be arrested, too.
However, Hun Sen reiterated on Wednesday that the CNRP would be dissolved and any elected officials who defected from the opposition to his party would be allowed to keep their positions.