PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that he is considering a “huge amnesty” for prisoners so that those released will have a chance to correct their mistakes.
Hun Sen’s comments come amid an apparent softening of the government’s harsh stance toward critics. Four land rights activists were pardoned and released from prison on Monday, and two journalists who formerly worked for U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia were released Tuesday on bail as they await trial on espionage charges. A jailed politician was reported to have received a pardon Thursday night after Hun Sen spoke.
Hun Sen cracked down on critics and opponents last year in what was seen as an effort to ensure his party would win elections held this year. His party did, though the vote was widely seen as lacking credibility.
Hun Sen has led the country for more than three decades and has said he intends to remain at the helm for at least 10 more years.
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Hun Sen insisted Thursday in a speech to garment factory workers that the pardons were not because of international pressure, but to show mercy.
He did not identify which prisoners might receive the amnesty, but his reference to 12 of them may refer to 12 opposition party members convicted a few years ago of social unrest.
Hun Sen said the amnesty could coincide with an important festival or national dates in coming months.
After he spoke, the pardon of Sourn Serey Ratha, the president of the former Khmer Power Party, was reported by local media. He was arrested in August 2017 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for posting a comment on his Facebook page that the government said incited soldiers to disobey orders.
He had criticized the deployment of troops to the border with Laos during a brief but tense territorial standoff. He said a conflict would harm only regular troops, while generals could safely enjoy their good life with “money” and “girls.”