Activists Who Fled Refuse To Write to Hun Sen

Three activists who fled the country to avoid jail on defamation charges have said they will not write letters to Prime Minister Hun Sen to avoid prosecution.

In an e-mail dated Wednesday, Cam­bodian Independent Civil Servants’ Association President Men Nath and Students’ Move­ment for Democracy Deputy Secretary-General Ir Channa said writing the letters would constitute apologizing to the prime minister, which they would not do.

“We really want to come back to our country, but not now, be­cause we don’t need a pardon from anyone,” the two wrote in an e-mail to Cambodian Inde­pen­dent Teachers’ Associ­ation Presi­dent Rong Chhun.

“We have never done anything wrong, especially the border issue. It should be him, Hun Sen, who apologizes to all Cambodian compatriots,” added Ir Channa and Men Nath, who have sought asylum with the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees in Bang­kok.

As members of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, the two men, along with Rong Chhun and Free Trade Union President Chea Mo­ny, signed a statement criticizing Hun Sen over a border treaty with Vietnam in October.

A defamation lawsuit was filed against the four on behalf of the prime minister days later, and Rong Chhun was arrested while try­ing to cross into Thailand. He was released on bail on Jan 17.

On Monday, Cambodian Cen­ter for Human Rights President Kem Sokha and CCHR Deputy Director Pa Nguon Teang issued a statement thanking Hun Sen for acting as their bail guarantor with the court. Rong Chhun and Bee­hive radio station owner Mam Sonando also sent letters to Hun Sen thanking him for helping get them out of prison and distanced themselves from criticism of his handling of the border issue.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen said he would ask the court to drop lawsuits and criminal charges against all activists who write him simi­lar letters explaining their errant actions.

Speaking by telephone from France on Wednesday, Chea Mony also said he would not be sending a letter to the prime minister.

“I am afraid that this is Hun Sen’s trick, where Hun Sen says one thing and the court does some­thing different,” he said, adding: “If I write this letter, it means that I am wrong.”

Though international media re­ported that charges against Kem Sokha, Pa Nguon Teang, Rong Chhun and Mam Sonando had been dropped, Phnom Penh Mu­nicipal Court officials said on Wednes­day that no charges have been dropped in the defamation cases.

UN Secretary-General Kofi An­nan also released a statement of sup­port for the reported dropping of charges.

“The Secretary-General was pleased to learn that the Govern­ment of Cambodia has dropped all charges against the four hu­man rights activists,” read a statement from the UN dated Tues­day.

“The Secretary-General hopes that in the future, these and other human rights activists in Cam­bodia will be allowed to carry out their essential work without interference.”

Government lawyer Suong Chanthan said he will not withdraw the lawsuits because the court will still proceed with the criminal investigations.

“We will soften our attitude,” he said. “But I cannot withdraw the law­suit. When we soften our attitude, we just don’t push the issue.”

Investigating Judge Sao Meach said he was moving ahead with the cases.

“I will not drop the charges. I am continuing to conduct further inves­tigations,” he said.

Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Teang could not be reached for com­ment Wednesday, but CCHR spokesman Ou Virak downplayed concerns that the charges and lawsuits will not be dropped.

“The prime minister has said so and he would not want his word contradicted,” Ou Virak said.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, who fled the country in October after a defamation lawsuit was filed against him over the border is­sue, wrote in an e-mail from Bei­jing on Wednesday that he would be happy to pen a letter to the prime minister.

“If a letter is what is required to ease everything, I’ll be glad to in­dulge,” the prince wrote.

“Whatever I can do to help en­sure peace, stability and unity in the Khmer society, I will do it,” he added.



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