The newly-formed Alliance for Freedom of Expression began distributing 60,000 miniature yellow ribbons on Wednesday in a campaign to fight for freedom of expression, Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Kem Sokha said.
The alliance of more than 20 NGOs began distributing the ribbons at markets in Phnom Penh as well as Takeo, Kratie, Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Kompong Speu provinces. However, efforts to distribute the ribbons at Phsar Thmei were blocked by market authorities who said that permission was required.
Phsar Thmei security chief Sok Kimheng could not be reached for comment.
The campaign follows the recent imprisonment of Beehive Radio Station owner Mam Sonando and Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun on charges of defamation and incitement for their public comments on border negotiations with Vietnam.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that the defamation cases against border critics were a civil matter, while the charge of incitement was criminal.
One of the reasons the government chose to bring the complaints against the two was because “the accusations could cause the government to lose the election,” Khieu Kanharith said.
He added that Kem Sokha’s public accusations of government suppression of freedom of expression and the ribbon campaign were themselves evidence that there is freedom of expression in Cambodia.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that those who accuse him of selling land to Vietnam would remain in jail.
“When you mistakenly accuse me there will be a problem. Don’t claim that it is the suppression of freedom of expression,” Hun Sen said at the National Institute of Education.
“We give you the right to talk, but you accused me of being a national traitor, selling the land,” he said.
“Let the court decide about crime and how long you should stay in prison,” he added.