Calling it “humanitarian aid,” retired King Norodom Sihanouk on Wednesday donated $1,000 each to four men charged with defamation over criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government.
The payments were made by Royal Palace staff to Beehive Radio station owner Mam Sonando, Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha, CCHR Deputy Director Pa Nguon Teang and Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun, who were released on bail from Prey Sar prison on Tuesday.
“The retired King’s donation is kind of encouragement for us,” Rong Chhun said. “He likes democracy, he wants a true democracy in Cambodia.”
Additional payments were made at the palace to relatives and associates of Students’ Movement for Democracy Secretary-General Ear Channa, Cambodian Independent Civil Servants’ Association President Men Nath and Free Trade Union President Chea Mony, who have been charged with defaming Hun Sen and are outside the country.
Cheam Channy—the former opposition parliamentarian who was sentenced to seven years in prison in August for forming a so-called illegal armed force—was also donated $1,000, though he wasn’t there to receive it.
Rong Chhun said that he may have been released but he was still concerned about Cheam Channy and opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
“I want the government to pardon Sam Rainsy and release Cheam Channy so that they can participate in the [national] election in 2008,” he said.
Cheam Channy’s wife Chum Sieng Leng, who visited her husband in prison on Thursday to deliver him fruit and soup, said she was optimistic her husband would soon return home.
“I think that the King will grant my husband amnesty,” she said.
In an appeal received Thursday, London-based rights group Amnesty International urged members of the public to write to Hun Sen and co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, welcoming the Tuesday release of the four men, and urging the authorities to drop charges against them.
The CCHR had planned a march for Monday to deliver a petition to King Norodom Sihamoni at the palace that it hoped would be stamped with half a million thumbprints calling on the government to drop all charges and release those detained.
But CCHR spokesman Ou Virak said municipal officials have opposed the march.
“They said the situation is better, so we don’t need a march,” he said. “They said the petitions were no longer relevant. But the petitions are still relevant.”
Phnom Penh Deputy Municipal Governor Mam Bun Neang said he was too busy to comment on the proposed march.
Henrick Stenman, deputy director of the UN Center for Human Rights in Phnom Penh said that Tuesday’s release could distract from the cases of Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy.
“We would hope that this would lead to the release of all people facing those kinds of charges, including those living abroad,” he said.