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Reactions to Arrest of Cambodian Human Rights Activist Kem Sokha

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Photo of Kem Sokha via VOA

Via Jinja who points to this AP wire story about the arrest of the Kem Sokha, Cambodian Center for Human Rights.   It confirms that Yeng Virak, head of the Community Legal Education Center, was also arrested.

The article provides more details about the banners displayed at Human Rights Day that prompted the arrest. (Cambodia Blog has a post with some photos from the December event here and here – but not the banner described below.)  The Cambodian government also denied cracking down on freedom of expression:

Khieu Kanharith, the government spokesman and information minister, said the government has sued the two men over a critical banner they displayed during a gathering on International Human Rights Day on Dec.10. He said the banner labeled Hun Sen as a "communist" and a "traitor who has sold away (Cambodian) land to Vietnam."

"We have already stated in the past that this (accusation) is very serious," he said, denying the government is cracking down on freedom of expression.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli suggested in his comments that the latest action shows the Cambodian government is more authoritarian than democratic.    In an article in the Cambodia Daily, Mussomeli said "We are concerned that this may be part of a broader plan to
quash the opposition. The prospects for a credible and fair election in 2008 are being impaired…. They've scared the hell out of the opposition and it becomes more difficult to take these trappings of democracy as the real thing."

Virak's lawyer said the arrest is unfair as the words on the banner in question were scribbled by someone else and that when the organizers saw it, the banner was promptly removed.    Still some argue, a government tolerant of free speech would not be throwing the organizers of the event or the organization holding the banner in jail.

Those blogging fromoutside the country expressed dismay about recent events. According to an article in the Cambodia Daily, for some Cambodians citizens quoted in the article, the arrest is a warning to stop speaking out. One unidentified source quoted in the article is calling for outside help:

"The UN and powerful countries around the world should intervene on this matter in order to help those  activists," he said. "Then Cambodian people can take the second step in protesting to release Kem Sokha and others."

Expat Cambodians living in the US are organizing and urging US citizens to contact
their government officials to express outrage about the situation.  Here is an opinion piece from the Cambodia Information Center blog entitled Freedom Of Expression Being Haunted By Ghost Of The Past which is also encouraging people to speak out.

5 comments

  • […] Jinja, as far as I know, the first foreign Cambodia blogger in Cambodia. He maintains the largest blog collection and contributes to Cambodia – Global Voices. And Beth, an independent IT consultant in the US, plays an active roles in this development as well. Until today she has interviewed two Cambodian bloggers and published them on the Global Voice Online. […]

  • […] The Cambodian Government’s actions to silence critics of the ruling party rang in the New Year with the arrests Human Rights activists Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak and Pa Nguon Teang. The arrests were prompted by banners displayed on Human Rights Day held on December 10, 2005. […]

  • […] Critics, including the United States, the United Nations, World Bank and international human rights groups , have condemned the government’s actions and said they show Cambodia, under Hun Sen’s rule, is becoming more authoritarian than democratic. […]

  • Wildox

    Majority of us cambodians are still very ignorant and low in education!! We have a very exploded mentality, and when this mental reaction outbusts, we will harm our ownself peoples physically abused or kill our own brother and sister!! Well we did, lot of us died……
    I am so frustrated about us khmer, and I am so sad that change has not progressed much in our society: We get to get out of the well, the well that we only see one spot of the sky. We have to come out and look around our neightbor countries, what they have done to themself? Economically,educatinally,science, technology, they have shifted into high gear and we us khmers are still stuck in first gear!! We are far less backwarded than our ancestor. We have to stop fighting killing each other, we kill our own because that one khmer person speak up, and cotradicted one person opinion. Critisism is a key element to find the fact, to turn the wrong doing into a most logical thought and create an action that would bring progress and prosperity to our Cambodia!! Remember we have walked into the darkest hellwhole in the history of our race ( 1975-1979 ) We walked out of that whole, now we are togerther physically, a one killing here and there is still to much
    We have to come togerther mentally and physically in peace, love and great compassion to one another, reguardless of class or rank!! We are the parent the sister and brother of this house this great house of us
    ( Cambodia ) if one of us get hurt physically or mentally, every one of us will feel the pain. We need to take care and protect our children
    from being exploited: Our children has been forced into sex slavery, we ought to be ashamed of this behavior. how can we let this happen to our khmer children: They are the future of this nation, and is this how we prepare our children to hold the future of our nation. What kind of future our nation would have Mr. Sir & madam!! If this continue we may one day walk back into our dark hell whole again and we will suffer the greatest conciquence of death and destruction!!!
    We have wasted so much time seating around the round table and discuss matter that neither parties never come to good solit coclusion. During the jayawaraman the VII time, the king brought khmer togerther physically and mentally strong, the war with east Champa: champa was crushed by the the JVII military might!! Now we are in the same house, but we hardly eat dinner on the same table, we do not not talk to each other with word of wisdom, love and great compassion: We are devided into small group and we work against each other: That what was happen when JVII was in exiled: ( Champa had almost completly destroyed our old kingdom ) I begg of you all khmer from all walk of life, come togerther now, we all shall pull each other out of the dark well and look at the world around us, it has changed so much: And we have not changed for better but we are the poorest and most ignorant peolpes on this planet ( We need to put our children education into first priority, let them go to other culture and see and learn from the great culture such as the waet, and other highly developped nation. I want to ask all the cambodian riches indevidiual to give their money to the most legitimit NGO group to help built this nation, your contribution to our nation is the greatest investment you have ever made in your life time. Why? I tell you why? If this nation falling back into the past hell whole one again. Your wealth that you have now would mean nothing, you will loose it all include your life and your love one life. ( So help save this nation, this house to exist, to remain as a cambodian peoples house not other peoples house: let Cambodia become strong economically, educationally, militarily, politically, let us become a matured nation: We are still a small child, and this child is malnurished!! Lacking physical and mental strainght!! This is the most dangerous time of all, Cambodia is facing uncertainty of our future!!! It,s up to us khmer the modern khmer we call ourself!!But the word modern doeusn’t live up to our status the poorest nation in southeast asia!!!It’s up to us khmer to mold and shape this piece of raw clay into a master piece of wonderfull art work. Do it my peoples, do now no more wasting time of biccaring, spend our time wisely and intelligently and save our beloved motherland ( Cambodia) I love you Cambodia, I love you all who stay on this land of our Mother and father.

    Sincerely

    Wildox

  • Kem Sokha is one of the most daring outspoken critics against human right abuses in Cambodia. His outspokenness had caught the ire of Prime Minister Hun Sen numerous times. His arrest and jailing and his release had caused sensational media attention, not only in Cambodia but around the world. His examplary courage will act as a model for the next generations of young Cambodians to follow.

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