Cambodians watch as opposition party leader Sam Rainsy talks on a screen during a video conference in Phnom Penh
PHNOM PENH — Cambodian opposition lawmakers have asked the king to pardon their exiled leader after he lost a final appeal against a two-year jail sentence, according to a letter seen by AFP on Monday.
Sam Rainsy, who has been living in France, was handed the prison term in his absence last year for inciting racial discrimination and uprooting border markings with neighbouring Vietnam in 2009.
His lawyer said the case was politically motivated, but after exhausting his appeals against the verdict, the outspoken politician was stripped of his parliamentary seat last week.
In a letter dated March 18, Sam Rainsy Party MPs urged King Norodom Sihamoni "to pardon Sam Rainsy... so that he can continue his role as a representative of the Cambodian people and fulfil his duties to serve the nation."
"The absence of Sam Rainsy in the leadership of the second biggest political party in the kingdom of Cambodia will affect the development of a democratic and multi-party system," they wrote.
Sam Rainsy faces a total of 12 years in prison if he returns to Cambodia, after a court late last year also sentenced him to 10 years for publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam in a separate case.
The opposition party and rights groups have in the past said the convictions were an attempt to keep Sam Rainsy from taking part in Cambodia's national election in 2013.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann told AFP the lawmakers were forced to seek "intervention from the king" because their leader had been "unfairly treated" by the judiciary and the parliament.
Sam Rainsy is seen as the main rival to Prime Minister Hun Sen, 59, who has ruled the country since 1985 and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90 years old.
In Cambodia, royal pardons are usually granted following a request from the premier, but Hun Sen said in a speech earlier this year that he would not support a pardon for Sam Rainsy.