T HE government is offering no apologies to the "balloon six", who won their
freedom this week after six weeks in T3 prison on charges of being
Both Information Minister Ieng Mouly and
Interior Minister You Hockry defended the six men's arrest and
Mouly suggested the six could have been paid by the Khmer
Rouge, while Hockry said at least one of them had been involved in
The six men - including a one-legged balloon
seller, a former Funcinpec youth leader and the secretary general of the Khmer
Krom Association - were arrested Aug 5 during the visit of US Secretary of State
Involved with the release of balloons with political
leaflets tied to them, they were accused of inciting people to "commit crimes or
hate the Royal government."
They were released Sept 18, after an appeal
for their freedom from King Norodom Sihanouk, and all charges
Looking clean and well-dressed, the six were met by a crowd of
waiting journalists as they walked out the prison gates. They had little to say,
heading straight for moto-taxis to go home.
"I did what my will told me
to do and I violated nothing," said Sith Kosaing Sin, the former Funcinpec youth
leader who planned the balloon protest.
Also arrested was Son Yin of the
Khmer Krom Association and four others - including a one-legged man and his son
- who maintained they were just balloon sellers.
Their defender, Oum
Samuel of Charto, said their unconditional release came after the Phnom Penh
Municipal Court decided there was insufficient evidence to try them. It also
followed a petition to the co-Prime Ministers from the King.
of the six attracted strong condemnation from human rights watchdogs around the
world as a breach of their right to freedom of expression.
of Information Ieng Mouly, a public opponent of jailing people for expressing
opinions, said after their release that the police had been right to arrest
"This incident was on a very special occasion [Christopher's
visit]. If they did this during any other day, there may have been no need to
Mouly said it had been possible the six would do "something
more" than just release balloons, and had to kept away from
Asked why they were detained for six weeks, when
Christopher's visit lasted less than two days, he said: "I don't know. But I
understand the reason why they were investigated to find their sources of
"I heard [they got paid] $2000 or something like that. Who has
money like that? The suspicion is that there may be a connection with the Khmer
Minister of Interior You Hockry said he knew nothing about any KR
But he did not believe the men's arrest and detention was a
mistake, saying: "I think there may be something more to it than
"One of them was involved in demonstrations before, last year I
According to independent translations, the first of two leaflets
tied to the balloons urged Christopher to press the Cambodian government to
promote democracy, human and judicial independence.
The second supported
the King, expressed concern that Cambodia was in "extreme deterioration" and
concluded by saying that "we...do not follow the incitement of the Khmer Rouge."