Cambodia pardons more jailed opposition members

Fourteen anti-government activists were given pardons Monday that will free them from long prison terms, the latest in a series of releases engineered by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after his party's election sweep last month.

The 14, including at least 11 former members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, were convicted of insurrection in connection with a street protest four years ago that turned violent.

A court spokesman said King Norodom Sihamoni signed the pardons at the request of Hun Sen, and the group would be released Tuesday.

The group includes three former opposition members who were sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly leading the protest.

At least eight other former party members received seven-year sentences for taking part in the July 15, 2014, protest in Phnom Penh that came as opposition lawmakers were boycotting parliament to demand political reforms, saying the previous year's election had been rigged by Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Their arrests were widely criticized as politically motivated.

Hun Sen's party swept this year's July 29 general election after pro-government courts dissolved the Cambodian National Rescue Party, the only credible opposition grouping.

The release appeared to be carefully orchestrated, as Hun Sen last week suggested it would come very soon. He said the releases were acts of mercy and not a response to foreign criticism of his authoritarian rule and the election, which was generally seen as unfair.

The 11 opposition members had sent a letter on Friday to Hun Sen, posted on social media, asking for pardons in order to help their families.

"After having been jailed for more than three years, we regret very much that we had joined the protest at Democracy Square without full consideration, causing serious effects on national security and public order," the letter sid.

"We are promising that from today on, we will not join any protest or any activity without consideration and we will fully respect the law," they wrote.

At least eight other people held on political charges have been freed with pardons or on bail since the beginning of last week.

Hun Sen, who has been in office since 1985 and has held a tight grip on power since ousting a co-prime minister in a bloody 1997 coup, has a record of cracking down harshly when facing a serious challenge, then effecting reconciliation when he no longer feels threatened.