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.