Thak Lany, a former senator for the defunct Sam Rainsy Party, received a pardon this month at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to a royal decree released on Tuesday and dated March 3.
Lany, who fled Cambodia in 2016 and received political asylum in Sweden, was convicted of incitement to cause chaos and defamation after accusing the prime minister of ordering the assassination of the prominent political analyst Kem Lay. She was sentenced in absentia in February 2018 to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay an 8 million riel fine.
The pardon came after the European Parliament adopted a resolution last Thursday calling for targeted sanctions “including travel bans and asset freezes” against Cambodian leaders in light of what they termed “politically motivated” trials of the opposition and civil society.
In November 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party — a successor to the SRP — had attempted to overthrow the government, and dissolved the party. Since then, more than 350 CNRP members have faced arrests, charges, detentions, and court summons. On March 1, Sam Rainsy and other top CNRP leaders were sentenced in absentia to 20 to 25 years in prison for attempting a coup — a charge widely believed to be politically motivated.
Ruling CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, confirmed Lany’s pardon but insisted it wasn’t related to pressure from the international community. The European Parliament, he said, is not the “boss or colonial leader” of Cambodia.
“Cambodia cannot follow their orders,” he said. He added that Lany is welcome to join the ruling party if she wishes.
Lany could not be reached for comment. Her husband Chhun Bun San, who remains in Cambodia, said he was pleased to learn of the pardon.
“I feel happy because we have been separated from each other for several years,” He said. Bun San said he didn’t know if his wife intended to return to politics but that he would lobby her to refrain as she had reached retirement age.
Former senior CNRP official, Meach Sovannara, said he welcome the news of the pardon and noted she should not have been charged in the first place.
“Politicians criticizing the government doesn’t mean they should get criminal charges of incitement or causing sabotage,” he said.
Senate spokesman Mom Bun Neang said that the pardon meant Lany can return to Cambodia. If she wished to, he said, she could join the political arena because she is not among of 118 former CNRP officials who in 2017 were banned from politics for five years.
“She is now freed from guilt, and it is her right whether she wants to join politics,” she said.
Em Sovannara, an independent political analyst, said he believed that the pardon came with a broader political motivation.
“It is a strategy and a model for other members [of the opposition party] to join with CPP,” he said. He said pardons would likely be given to anyone who agreed to defect to the ruling CPP.
Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said the pardon represents a positive signal of the government’s desire to resolve the current political crisis amid pressure from the European Parliament.
“I believe that there will be a big political compromise to settle the political dispute in Cambodia,” he said.
According to Eysan, of the 118 CNRP officials banned from politics, 14 thus far had been considered by the government to have been “rehabilitated,” meaning they requested permission from Prime Minister Hun Sen or Interior Minister Sar Kheng and were told they could return to politics if they so desired. He said of that group only Ly Srey Vyna had requested to join the Cambodian People’s Party.
Former CNRP deputy, Mu Sochua, who received a 22-year-sentence in absentia at the March 1 trial welcomed the pardon and said the European resolution showed there would be penalty for such abuses.
“The EU Parliament in its 11 March, 2021 Resolution points clearly to the injustice suffered by those opposing the policies of the Hun Sen regime and put out its clear message that it can no longer be tolerated,” she wrote in an email.