Delivered mere minutes after the cremation of his father, a rare public speech by King Norodom Sihamoni offered advice to prisoners who had just been granted royal pardons and praise for the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
In the speech, which lasted just a few minutes, King Sihamoni also thanked Prime Minister Hun Sen for his role in granting pardons to more than 400 prisoners.
“From now on, you have freedom and can return home to meet your families, relatives and friends. So please try to educate your body, mind and speech with concentration and dignity to be a good citizen,” he told the assembled prisoners, who had been pardoned earlier that afternoon and received gifts including a shirt bearing an image of Hun Sen and Sihanouk hand-in-hand.
“I deeply thank the Cambodian government leader, Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has helped you all to be free,” he added.
King Sihamoni — who had appeared wracked with emotion through much of the cremation ceremony, frequently pausing to wipe away tears — also called on his dead father to “look after” the nation.
“You, the Queen Mother and I, the government, people across the country, we all raise our hands to salute and pray for meritorious action as the King Father’s spirit ascends to heaven.
“Please, Father King, look after the Kingdom of Cambodia,” he said.
Many of the prisoners present — who had served two-thirds of their sentences and been granted release on the grounds of illness, age or good behaviour — found themselves speechless, overwhelmed by the change in fortune.
“I never dreamed that I would have the good luck to be sent to the King Father’s ceremony. So I’m so excited for that and then after, for having the freedom to see my family,” 62-year-old Ek Choung said.
Like his fellow ex-convicts, Choung had been brought to the cremation ceremony from Prey Sar prison, where the Svay Rieng native had served eight years of a 12-year sentence on a murder charge.
“I never thought I would be released,” said Sour Houn, 53, who had been serving a 10-year sentence at the Kampot provincial prison for theft, only to be pardoned a year early.
“I really am the luckiest.”