Pardoned CNRP Prisoner Plans Return to Cambodia

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Mr. Meach Sovannara, former officer of CNRP after released on August 28, 2018. Image: Facebook Chengchon Son

Meach Sovannara, a dual U.S.-Cambodian citizen and former opposition official, says he has plans to return to Cambodia for the first time since he was released almost four years into a 20-year prison sentence for “insurrection” last year.

The former journalist and prominent head of the information department of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was released in August along with about 20 other government critics in the wake of last year’s national election.

He said he would return to Cambodia on June 17 but that he was not coming to take part in politics — even if he hoped his presence would help to provide a morale boost to opposition leader Kem Sokha, who remains under house arrest.

“The return will be as an ordinary person [and] as an educator on human rights, democracy and freedom,” said Sovannara, who started the popular Khmer Post Radio outlet based in California before joining the CNRP as an official.

He said he still held out hope the government and opposition could come to an deal — spurred on by the international community — to re-legalize the CNRP.

“We cannot say there will be no negotiations between the Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP, but to what extent [will they negotiate]? We still hope that the E.U., U.S. and Japan are carrying out their diplomatic policies step-by-step.”

Sovannara had been serving a 20-year sentence for “leading an insurrection” due to his presence at a July 15, 2014, CNRP protest at Freedom Park that turned violent when Daun Penh district security guards and protesters clashed.

On July 20, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Sovannara to 20 years in prison. He had been in pre-trial detention since November 2014, when he was suddenly arrested months after the Freedom Park protest.

He and 12 other CNRP figures who were jailed over to the protest were released last year amid a slew of releases after last year’s election, in which the government won each of the 125 National Assembly seats in the absence of the opposition.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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