Members of the public warmly welcomed the news on Tuesday evening that four men held on defamation charges at Prey Sar prison had been freed, saying the move signaled a return to Cambodia’s democratic spirit.
Hor Sithan, a 34-year-old grocer working near Phsar Thmei, said that although the government had the country’s best interests at heart, the detentions had been damaging its international reputation.
“I am so happy with their release,” said Sok Ponn, a 50-year-old motorbike taxi driver on Street 222. “Freedom of expression and democracy are coming back along with them.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha, CCHR Deputy Director Pa Nguon Teang, Mam Sonando of Beehive Radio and Rong Chhun of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association were all freed on bail.
Phan Chansak, a Siem Reap province-based private lawyer, said by telephone that the move would likely satisfy donor countries as well as the general public. He added that the releases had helped rid the country of an atmosphere of intimidation that had descended in recent months.
“The government returns in the right direction,” he said, though he added that democracy would not be fully restored until opposition leader Sam Rainsy, and various border critics who have fled the country in recent months, are able to return without fear of arrest.
“I want the government to free other people who ran away and allow them to come back and work for the national interest,” he said.
A Daun Penh district police official said on condition of anonymity that the release of the four “is a good gesture bringing peace to the people and the country,” adding that he was grateful to Prime Minister Hun Sen for his forgiveness.
Som Mony, an English professor at Norton University, said he believed the men were released to achieve political goals.
He added that the charges against the four are unlikely to stand up in court, and that criticism of the government should be allowed.
“Government leaders should accept criticism for the national interest,” he said.