O NE-LEGGED balloon seller Sam Soun, 58, and his son Sophan, 28, thought August 5
was their lucky day - till they got arrested as being anti-government
Soun and Sophan, along with two other balloon sellers, got a
big order to supply about 2,000 helium-filled balloons from two men: former
Funcinpec youth leader Sith Kosaing Sin, 32, and Son Yin, 38, secretary general
of the Khmer Krom Association.
They helped tie about 300 leaflets to the
balloons; one set of leaflets calling on "patriots" to support human rights, and
another asking visiting US Secretary of State Warren Christopher to help
Cambodia follow democracy.
Police chanced upon the "agitators" when a
crowd began gathering around them and, on orders from Municipal Police chief
General Net Savoeurn, arrested the four - and, later the next day, the
organizers Kosaing Sin and Yin also - on charges of "incitement."
detention of the six has been slammed by human rights watchdog Amnesty
International, which called it "illegal".
The United Nations
Secetary-General's Representative for Human Rights for Cambodia, Michael Kirby,
also expressed concern.
"I see nothing in what they said that is more
than an expression of political views...which is guaranteed and protected by the
Cambodian constitution," said Kirby.
However, the future for the six
The investigating judge has confirmed to the Post that not
only will the men go to trial - but that they already appear
"They attempted to distribute some 300 leaflets by tying them to
balloons, planning to incite the people to commit crimes or to hate the Royal
government..." said investigating judge Nub Sophon.
Sophon declined to
explain how the six detainees broke any Cambodian laws.
"I can't tell you
what and how the men broke any laws... I just tell you that they are charged
under article 60 of the Supreme National Council criminal law," he
Article 60 relates to people inciting others to commit crimes, but
without any crimes actually being committed. The penalty is one to five years in
"I am just a balloon seller...I knew nothing about politics and I
did that because I need money to support my family," Sam Soun said. "I was
offered 100 riel for each balloon...and I was very happy because on that day I
earned 20,000 riel in the early morning."
Soun, a father of six, said he
was very concerned about the detention because nobody would be earning money for
The other men arrested - balloon sellers Lim Nem, 38, and Kay
Vichet, 30 - both told similar stories that they had no idea about politics, and
that they thought it just happened to be a lucky day that they got a profitable
order for their balloons.
"I was asked to do this by Son Yin... I read
one of the leaflets, but I found all it did was welcome the return of King
Sihanouk back from China," Vichet said.
Sith Kosaing Sin, a Customs
Department officer and a former secretary general of the Royalist Funcinpec
Youth wing, admitted writing the leaflets and organizing their
When he heard the balloon sellers had been arrested, he
went to the police station - via the United Nations Center for Human Rights
(UNCHR) - and demanded that they be released and he be detained instead. The
police obliged by arresting him, but did not release the balloon
"(The balloon sellers) were innocent of any political protest...
they had only been hired by me to inflate balloons and distribute (the
leaflets)," Kosaing Sin said.
He said he was not scared and claimed that
all he wanted was to encourage people speak of democracy. He said he believed he
did nothing against Cambodian laws or the constitution.
"Before I decided
to do this I read through the constitution and found nothing that said I would
be guilty," he said.
"While I sat down in the police office, one
policeman smiled at me and then locked me alone in the room without saying
anything," Kosaing Sin said.
He said a few minutes later policemen with
cameras and a TV camera arrived to take his photo. "Among those policemen, I
recognize one of them is a Funcinpec deputy chief of the municipal police,
General Peng Ly. He greeted me 'so, how is the politician'," Kosaing Sin
He said he was questioned from 3pm until midnight.
he was asked by Kosaing Sin, who he has known for years, to hire the four
balloon sellers to float the leaflets across the city.
"I got no money
from [Kosaing Sin] and I'm not angry with him now," Yin said.
said he was upset at apparent disunity within Funcinpec and wanted the
government to give King Norodom Sihanouk power to achieve national
The leaflet said if Khmers unified they would be strong.
It called on people to maintain solidarity, justice and unification, respect
each other's rights and laws, not to destroy the forests, traffic drugs or be
corrupt - or let too many aliens settle in the country.
Government must cease to plunder the rice field, lands and houses of the
population... If Khmers go on biting Khmers, beware of the Chinese who will buy
all the lands, then Khmers will start to have tear drops," the leaflet
The leaflet also called "patriots" of Funcinpec to remember
the years of sacrifice and to stand up against human rights violations in
The leaflet appealed to US Secretary of State Warren
Christopher to prompt the government to abide by democracy, respect human
rights, obey the law and to promote independence of the courts.
second leaflet also called on Khmers to be unified and follow "... the Royal
political guidelines of national reconciliation, under the dignified leadership
of Samdech Euv (King Sihanouk), with a wonderful view to liberate the nation
from the dictatorial communism, corruption... treason to national ideals,
stepping forward to genuine democracy."
It said that at the present time
the situation was in "... extreme deterioriation...".
In conculsion, the
leaflet argued that "we... do not follow the incitement of the Khmer
Defending the six, Charto administration director Oum Samuel
said: "I have read the two leaflets over and over again, but I found nothing
which incites anyone to commit a crime of any kind... my clients should not be
He said the leaflets are simply the peaceful expression of their