Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday ordered the release on bail of more than 70 opposition activists who have been arrested in recent weeks and accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 34 years, has been under increasing international pressure to improve his human rights record, with the European Union threatening the withdrawal of important trade benefits.
“There are over 70 people, please hurry up work on this case so that these brothers can be released on bail,” Hun Sen said in a speech at a new cement factory in the southern province of Kampot, in comments directed at judicial authorities.
Cambodia arrested dozens of people in the run-up to last Saturday, when veteran opposition leader Sam Rainsy had said he would return from self-imposed exile in Paris to rally opposition to Hun Sen.
In the event, amid growing government pressure on his party and its supporters, Rainsy flew to Malaysia before arriving in Indonesia on Thursday. He said he had been prevented from flying to Thailand where his deputy, Mu Sochua, had been refused entry last month.
On Saturday, Cambodia also relaxed the house arrest conditions on opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was arrested on treason charges more than two years ago. He says the charges are ridiculous and has called for them to be dropped.
Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy co-founded the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was banned in 2017.
By then, Sam Rainsy had flown into self-exile in France after a defamation conviction and other charges he maintains are politically motivated.
On Tuesday, the EU voiced concern at the human rights situation in Cambodia as it gave authorities one month to respond to a report on its investigation before deciding whether to suspend trade benefits.
Hun Sen said that in addition to ordering the release of the opposition activists, he had ordered the Justice Ministry to withdraw arrest warrants for other opposition activists who had fled to Thailand or were in hiding in Cambodia.