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EU lawmakers call for Cambodia to release opposition leader

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EU lawmakers call for Cambodia to release opposition leader
FILE PHOTO: Cambodia's opposition leader and President of the National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha talks during an interview with Reuters in Prey Veng province, Cambodia May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring/File Photo   -   Copyright  Pring Samrang(Reuters)
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By Daphne Psaledakis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Parliament urged Cambodia on Thursday to drop all charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha, deepening the international outcry over his detainment.

On Monday, Sokha was moved to house arrest in the capital, Phnom Penh, after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges. He was arrested last September as part of a government-led crackdown against critics.

Last year, Cambodia’s democracy made “significant steps backward,” said Federica Mogherini, vice president of the European Commission, during a debate in Parliament.

The resolution passed in Parliament called on EU bodies to look into the possibility of sanctioning Cambodian officials over human and civil rights violations.

The vote by European lawmakers comes after the United States earlier this week urged the Cambodian government to drop all charges against Sokha.

Sokha, 65, is the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved as part of the crackdown ahead of a general election in July.

“The decision to dissolve the CNRP was a significant step towards the creation of an authoritarian state,” the resolution passed by EU lawmakers stated.

“The political structure of Cambodia can no longer be considered a democracy,” the document said.

Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 parliamentary seats in the election, which the United Nations and some Western countries have said was flawed because of the lack of a credible opposition, among other factors.

Restrictions placed on Sokha include a ban on him meeting CNRP officials or the media.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the conditions of Kem Sokha’s bail were decided by the court.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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