Despite warnings from Prime Minister Hun Sen to end their criticism, the five activists released on bail last week said they would continue working as normal, even if it includes criticizing the government.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha, CCHR Deputy Director Pa Nguon Teang, Beehive Radio station owner Mam Sonando, Cambodian Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun and Community Legal Education Center Executive Director Yeng Virak said Monday they will continue promoting human rights and democracy in the country.
“I still have the freedom to continue my normal activities,” Kem Sokha told reporters at a press conference at the FCC bar and restaurant.
“I can’t apologize to the government because I haven’t made a mistake,” he said.
Hun Sen told reporters on Sunday that he has the ability to ask for a pardon for the five men if they are convicted of defaming him.
“But with their few days’ behavior, I think there is no pardon,” Hun Sen said, referring to comments the five have made since their release from prison.
The five also reiterated their appeal for the government to downgrade defamation from a criminal to a civil charge.
“To imprison people because of defamation, that is a serious charge,” Yeng Virak said.
After the news conference, the five visited Preah Ang Dangker on the riverfront in front of the Royal Palace where they prayed.
CCHR spokesman Ou Virak then delivered to King Norodom Sihamoni a petition bearing 127,154 thumbprints from Cambodians calling for the lawsuits and charges to be dropped.
During a 15-minute audience at the Royal Palace, Ou Virak said the King expressed concern about the defamation charges and “he also brought a message from the retired King [Norodom Sihanouk] saying they are all concerned.”
Ou Virak said King Sihamoni told him the petitions would be forwarded to the government.
The CCHR is continuing to collect thumbprints, which will also be sent to the Royal Palace, Ou Virak said. Royal cabinet member Oum Daravuth said he was too busy to comment.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the activists should thank the prime minister for securing their release rather than continuing to criticize him.
Hun Sen acted as guarantors for the men, promising they would appear in court when summoned and not flee the country, Khieu Sopheak said.
“Hun Sen himself guaranteed that they will show up at court,” he said. “If I was Kem Sokha, I would thank Hun Sen for this.”
Khieu Sopheak added that the prime minister did not tell the men to stop working.
“Constructive criticism is okay. So far you can see some of them are not constructive.”