Detention of Kem Sokha Draws Criticism

Some spoke passionately, others in hushed tones with dejected resignation, but people from various walks of life around Phnom Penh and several provinces had something to say about the detention of Cam­bodian Center for Hu­man Rights President Kem Sok­ha on Sunday.

“I think that many Cambodian people are upset about the arrest, but they dare not protest against the authorities because there are a lot of pressures,” said Chan Sok, a 29-year-old soft drink factory worker in Phnom Penh.

Chan Sok added that she and fellow villagers from her native Prey Veng province learned about democracy and human rights from CCHR’s “Voice of Democracy” radio broadcasts on Beehive Radio.

Pursat province forestry activist Kuch Veng also said that the broad­casts were crucial because they help present diverse perspectives on Cambodia’s situation.

“The arrest of Kem Sokha is a warning to Cambodians to stop speaking out,” he said by telephone. “A lot of people call into his show to give constructive criticism…. Unless we have a lot of voices from different sources, in­cluding both the opposition and the establishment, we will never find perfection.”

A motorbike taxi driver at Wat Phnom who declined to give his name worried that the arrest may be intended to deprive people of knowledge about the electoral process.

“The arrest probably has to do with the coming commune and national elections, because the public won’t understand as much about it without him,” he said. “The arrest aims to keep information from the people.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Sunday that he was too busy to comment.

A 41-year-old civil servant who al­so declined to give his name ap­pealed for help from abroad. Ar­rests of public figures like Kem Sok­ha, Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun and Mam Sonando, owner of Beehive Radio station, strike fear into ordinary people who lack a platform for their grievances, he said.

“The UN and powerful countries around the world should intervene on this matter in order to help those activists,” he said. “Then Cambodian people can take the second step in protesting to release Kem Sokha and others.”

But not everyone felt that worrying about his arrest was a priority.

“I am a beggar, so I do not care who has been arrested or released, because I need to take care of my stomach first,” 32-year-old ex-soldier Huon Saroeun said at Wat Phnom. “Even if he was not in jail, my living condition would still be bad.”


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