International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has called on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately lift any restrictions on the liberty of Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, who was released from prison in Vietnam on June 28, but has yet to return to Cambodia.
Rights Watch called the treatment of Tim Sakhorn, who was defrocked and deported to Vietnam little more than 12 months ago, a “politically motivated persecution” and a “thinly veiled attempt to stop peaceful dissent by the Khmer Krom minority in both countries.”
“Tim Sakhorn should now be able to go where he wants, when he wants, but it is not clear that he is able to do so,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said in the statement Thursday.
The statement said that upon Tim Sakhorn’s release, government officials escorted him to his birthplace in An Giang province, where the authorities had organized a welcome party for him and local officials offered him a plot of land and a large house to live in. HRW said it feared that Tim Sakhorn might now be placed under house arrest.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam dismissed the criticism. “The Vietnamese government does not abuse people’s rights. This [HRW] statement is useless,” he said, adding that Tim Sakhorn was not being held against his will. “He has his freedom,” he said.
Tim Sakhorn’s father Tim Teang said Thursday that he had communicated with his son since his release via a telephone number which Vietnamese authorities told him only he could use.
Tim Sakhorn reported that he was happy, that he had not been tortured and that he was now in Hanoi. However, Tim Teang said that he did not believe that his son did not want to return to Cambodia immediately.
“I appeal that he be allowed to return now,” Tim Teang said.
Christophe Peschoux, head of the UN human rights office in Cambodia, said he welcomed Tim Sakhorn’s release but remained concerned about the monk’s disappearance and deportation.
“The government has stated that Khmers born in southern Vietnam are considered to be Cambodian citizens, and the Cambodian Constitution prohibits the extradition of Cambodian citizens in the absence of an extradition treaty,” he wrote by e-mail.
“Even if there had been an extradition treaty with Vietnam, Tim Sakhorn was entitled to basic due process rights like everyone else in Cambodia,” he said.
“We are interested in working with the government to help ensure that Khmers Krom living in Cambodia can enjoy their human rights on the same basis as everyone else,” he added.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the government would not prevent Tim Sakhorn from returning to Cambodia if he so desired. However, he insisted Cambodia would not intervene.
“Tim Sakhorn breached Vietnamese law. Cambodia was not implicated in the case,” he said.