Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha has been released on bail and placed under house arrest after spending more than a year in prison on widely decried treason charges.
The decision to grant bail to the president of the now-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was made after considering his health conditions and “legal assurance that the accused would not flee from court proceedings”, the government said in a statement on Monday.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside his home in the capital, Phnom Penh, following his release in the early hours of Monday.
He had been in pre-trial detention since then, held at a remote prison near Cambodia‘s border with Vietnam. As he awaits trial, the 65-year-old politician faces 15 to 30 years in prison if convicted.
“There had been speculation for some time that Kem Sokha could be released,” said Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, in neighbouring Thailand.
Kem Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, said her father was in poor health and needed medical attention.
“He has high blood sugar and he needs a long overdue surgery on his left shoulder,” she told the Reuters news agency.
Kem Sokha’s arrest was part of a broader government crackdown on government critics and the main opposition CNRP, which was outlawed by the Supreme Court last year and banned from participating in elections in July that were swept by the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
At the time, the party’s supporters said the move was politically motivated before the elections, which critics and the opposition dismissed as “an undemocratic sham”.
Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party, which has led the country for more than 30 years, won all 125 parliamentary seats in the July vote.
The polls drew criticism from the United Nations and some Western countries for lacking a credible opposition and being neither free nor fair.
Al Jazeera’s Hay said the timing of Kem Sokha’s release “was suspicious, to say the least”.
“Over the course of the past year Kem Sokha and his lawyers have repeatedly asked for bail and for this case to be thrown out; only for the court to reject those appeals,” he said.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, called Kem Sokha’s release “a step forward,” but added that “the charges against him are bogus and he should not have been arrested in the first place.”
“There’s been no justice served here, just a temporary release that prosecutors could undo anytime with a snap of their fingers,” Robertson told the DPA news agency in an email.