Reiterating earlier statements that defamation charges against several activists will not be dropped, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday offered two ways the situation could be handled.
He said the activists, some of whom have been released from prison on bail while others have fled the country, could be prosecuted and then request a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.
Or, Hun Sen said, the government could simply keep the case quiet until court proceedings are finished.
“There are two choices. First is to prosecute and then to ask for a pardon. If you want that, I offer it,” Hun Sen said in Kandal province.
“If there are prosecutions…there will be a criminal record,” making it difficult for the men to pursue employment, he said. “Older brothers, I have a kind heart,” Hun Sen added. “I am thinking about your future.”
Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun, who was jailed in October after criticizing Hun Sen over border negotiations with Vietnam and released on bail on Jan 17, said the power to erase charges lay with Hun Sen.
“I think he has the ability to drop the charge,” he said.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights spokesman Ou Virak also rejected Hun Sen’s choices.
“We don’t want to choose,” he said. “We want Samdech [Hun Sen] to make his own decision.”
Kem Sokha, the CCHR president who was jailed Dec 31 over a banner displayed at International Rights Day and released on Jan 17, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
Hun Sen said opposition party members have attempted to negotiate for the defamation conviction of opposition leader Sam Rainsy to be overturned, and for the release of jailed opposition party member Cheam Channy, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in August. Hun Sen said he refused the requests.
“Don’t negotiate with me,” he said. He also noted that the eight activists involved in the defamation cases had received financial gifts from retired King Norodom Sihanouk, who in January donated $1,000 to each of them.
“Our retired king donated money to those people, so it will be easy to stay in jail to receive gifts,” he said.
“I hate those who gave the gifts. This was too much encouragement. It is also encouragement to stay in prison,” he added. “Don’t ask to be released, because staying in prison is comfortable.”
Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Meng Rita said the party issued a statement Monday asking Hun Sen to compromise on the cases of Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy.
“First [Hun Sen] denies, but then he will soften and change his mind,” Meng Rita said.