Photos courtesy of Warren Anderson, UCIC
Kem Monovithya, 24, and Kem Samathida, 18, the daughters of imprisoned Human Rights activist Kem Sokha are in the US and working with Cambodian Americans to garner support for their father's release and to call attention to the crackdown on freedom of expression and democracy in Cambodia.
On December 31, 2005, Kem Sohka, Cambodian Center for Human Rights‘ director, and Yeng Virak, head of the Community Legal Education Center, were arrested for allegedly defaming the government in connection with a banner displayed on International Human Rights Day. So far, five individuals, either journalists, trade unionists, or prominent human rights activists have been arrested based on complaints filed by the government or its leaders. Most relate directly to opinions expressed about Prime Minister Hun Sen of the dominant Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and criticisms over sensitive border issues with neighboring Vietnam.
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.
While their father was being taken to Prey Sar prison, Kem's daughters were en route by jet to the United States where they attend school. They did not know of the arrest until they arrived in Washington, DC where the younger daughter Samathida will begin classes on January 17th.
A Candlight Vigil was held in front of the White House last night organized by an umbrella organization, United Cambodian International Council (UCIC), made up of many Cambodian diaspora groups. Monovithya Kem was one of the featured speakers and updated the audience on her father's condition in prison. The United Cambodian International Council (UCIC) co-chairs, Suykry Path from Minnesota and the Venerable Monk Rithipol of Massachusetts, also made remarks.
“I am encouraged by these efforts made by Cambodians in America and around the world,” said Monovithya Kem. "I feel certain that my father and his fight for democracy in Cambodia is not and will not be forgotten.”
Today, Loving-Kindness Ceremonies ("Bon Psay Meta" in Cambodian) were held at major Buddhist Temples across America. I reached Kem Sokha's younger daughter, Samathida, by phone who told me that she was touched by support she and her sister are receiving from Cambodian Americans and others.
She went on to say that her father's arrest is very wrong. "Cambodian people have brains, they think and they want to be able to speak their minds. But, if the government doesn't like what you say, you are put in jail. We are voiceless in our own country." She urged those who care about freedom of expression to put pressure on the Cambodian government to release her father and all those who have been jailed. "Please do not abandon Cambodia."
The two daughters will meet with U.S. Representatives and Senators in Washington, D.C. tommorrow to make a personal appeal and deliver letters of support from the Cambodian NGOS, Cambodian Americans, and others.
Perhaps they will start a blog to continue to tell their story and plead for their father's release and demand freedom of expression in Cambodia. The recent actions by the government, however, have had a chilling effect on the Cambodian blogosphere. Bloggers in country are not expressing their views on the topic.