Investigations Will Proceed, Hun Sen Says

Phnom Penh Municipal Court of­­ficials will not drop criminal defamation charges against several activists and may re-arrest any who act “arrogantly,” Prime Min­ister Hun Sen warned on Monday.

But Hun Sen advised the public to keep calm, saying that he had sug­gested that the court slow down its investigation of the ac­ti­vists so that their cases are not re­solved within the three-year statue of limitations period.

“The issues cannot be dropped or suspended,” the prime minister said during a speech to graduating students at the National Institute of Education. “So I suggested interrupting the penalty and slowing down the process.”

“If it could be silent for three years, the [court’s] jurisdiction will be over,” Hun Sen said, adding that he has told the court to “let it be.”

“I don’t want to win over anyone,” he added.

According to Article 30 of the Un­­­tac law, the statute of limitations for such misdemeanors as defa­ma­tion is three years.

Investigating Judge Sao Meach said he had not heard the prime min­ister’s speech and would not comment on whether he would follow Hun Sen’s instructions and drag his investigations out.

“We will proceed according to the law,” Sao Meach said. “It is up to the results of the investigation.”

Several activists who the prime minister said last week would be cleared of all charges said their fates were now in the hands of the government.

Kem Sokha, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president, said that while he understands that the gov­ernment cannot order the court to drop charges, “in previous ex­perience, if the government wants to drop a case, then [the court] will.”

“If the government has the will to finish the case, it’s easy to do,” Kem Sokha said. “If they want to drop it, they will drop it. I’m not too worried because the key is in the prime minister’s hands.”

However, he reiterated that the CCHR will not stop its work despite Hun Sen’s warning not to act “arrogantly.”

“I cannot stay quiet. If I stay quiet, I might as well be in jail,” he said.

Cambodian Independent Tea­ch­ers’ Association President Rong Chhun also reiterated earlier statements that he would continue his work and was confident that the prime minister’s promise to drop the charges would be realized.

“I think everything is in Sam­dech Hun Sen’s hands,” he said. “Everything is up to him.”

Beehive Radio station owner Mam Sonando said he, too, was not worried, because he had done ev­erything he could to absolve himself.

“When they want us in jail, we will be there,” he said. “If they want us out, we will be out. It is be­yond my concern.”

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay welcomed Hun Sen’s speech, saying that the government ap­peared to have a new attitude toward dialogue.

“By giving these kinds of hints, we can look at some other ways” of getting the charges dropped, Son Chhay said.

“He is looking for the middle way,” he said.

But Hun Sen’s hope that the in­vestigations would drag on for up to three years raised questions among observers as to whether the government was trying to keep his critics under control, es­pe­cially during the 2007 commune and 2008 national elections.

“The elections are a big factor,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “[Hun Sen] has a strategy for these guys which will have bearings on these elections.”

Koul Panha, director of the Com­­­mittee for Free and Fair Elec­t­ions, said that organizations like the CCHR and Beehive Radio are essential for educating voters during election campaigns.



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