After 18 months behind bars, Kung Raiya—a 26-year-old political science student imprisoned over a Facebook post calling for a “color revolution”—walked out of Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on Wednesday to the cheers of supporters.
In a August 2015 Facebook post, Mr. Raiya vowed to someday start a “color revolution”—a term almost exclusively used to describe nonviolent political movements—to “change the regime for Khmer society.” He was arrested later that month outside his university, and convicted last March on charges of incitement to commit a felony.
A month before Mr. Raiya’s post, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech to security forces that all potential color revolutions must be stopped. Critics were quick to label the student a political prisoner.
Mr. Raiya was reduced to tears as he spoke to reporters outside the prison, but said his time inside the facility had not broken his spirit.
“First, I would like to thank the government who put me in jail,” he said. “Because this experience in prison has made me strong.”
He said authorities had arrested him in an attempt to suppress his activism about border and environmental issues.
“They did it in order to break the spirit of youths who dare to protest or express their opinion,” Mr. Raiya said. “But you failed, because Khmer youth are very brave.”
A crowd of about 40—including family members, friends, monks, CNRP lawmaker Real Camerin and rights advocates—walked with Mr. Raiya to the nearby Ang Metrey pagoda for a blessing ceremony.
After he had been ceremonially doused with water, Mr. Raiya donned a T-shirt sporting the face of murdered political analyst Kem Ley, who was gunned down in Phnom Penh in July, a murder that many believe was a political assassination.
Mr. Raiya said he mourned his hero, who he had hoped would mentor him someday, from inside prison, even shaving his head in a Buddhist act of respect.
He said he would visit Kem Ley’s tomb in Takeo province in the next few days.
Mr. Raiya’s father, Kaing Kung, who is running as a CNRP candidate for Sdao commune in Kompong Cham province’s Kang Meas district in the June commune elections, said he was “excited and happy” about his son’s release, but did not think the jail term was appropriate.
“I don’t think my son’s activity was illegal. I think the law that is implemented right now is unjust for people,” he said, adding that he was proud of his son for speaking “truthfully about society.”
(Mr. Raiya also clarified the spelling of his name, which has previously been reported as Kong Raya.)
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he believed Mr. Raiya would have “learned from his bad experience.”
Compared to last year, talk of a color revolution had died down, Mr. Siphan said.
“Everyone’s learned from that,” he said, referring to Mr. Raiya’s imprisonment.
Mr. Raiya was defiant when asked whether he was worried he would be imprisoned again.
“I don’t care. If they want to arrest me, that’s fine. If they want to kill me, that’s fine,” he said. “I will talk—I will show up—for my country.”
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