Self-Exiled Political Activist Pardoned, to Return

Moeung Sonn, a self-exiled political activist found guilty of disinformation in July 2009 over claims a lighting installation on Angkor Wat could damage the temple, has been formally pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni, according to a copy of a royal decree obtained Tuesday.

Mr. Sonn, a former opposition lawmaker candidate and president of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, fled Cambodia before a two-year sentence was imposed over the comments he made at a May 2009 press conference.

He has since lived between France and Thailand but approached Prime Minister Hun Sen in Kuala Lumpur last month after the premier held a public meeting in the Malaysian capital with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, securing a promise that he could return.

According to Mr. Rainsy, Mr. Hun Sen, in high spirits after the successful meeting with Cambodians living in Malaysia, promised Mr. Sonn that he would ask King Sihamoni to pardon him. That pardon was subsequently granted on Friday, according to the royal decree.

“Pardon the prisoner Moeung Sonn, 62, who the courts convicted through a warrant by the Supreme Court dated April 21, 2013,” the decree says, referring to the court decision that closed off Mr. Sonn’s last avenue of appeal.

“Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, must implement this royal decree,” the decree continues. “The royal decree is effective from the date of the signature.”

Speaking by telephone from Thailand Tuesday, Mr. Sonn said that he now plans to return to Cambodia on Monday and would go to pay respects to his parents’ remains at a ceremony in Kandal province’s Takhmao City.

“I am very happy,” he said. “The wait has been for five years and 11 months, and now my dream has come true. We who are Khmer must live in the motherland.”

Mr. Sonn said his first task upon returning home would be to reorganize the nationalist NGO that he was speaking on behalf of when he was accused of disinformation in May 2009.

“When I arrive home, my first job will be to reorganize the Khmer Civilization Foundation to strengthen and protect the Khmer culture,” Mr. Sonn said.

“We have to make the Khmer Civilization Foundation to survive,” he said. “Cambodia will integrate into Asean, so there will be many foreigners crossing into our country, so if we do not protect Khmer culture, it will be lost.”

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