Moeung Sonn (R) speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh in 2008. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilisation Fund, wants to get back to Cambodia. But for now, at least, he’ll have to settle for close to Cambodia.
Sonn, who was convicted in 2009 of disseminating false information when he protested about a lighting project at Angkor Wat, occasionally rents a room near Cambodia’s border with Thailand, where he fled to avoid prison.
That close to home, Sonn can make local calls with his old mobile phone, and sometimes friends cross the border for little reunions.
It’s the closest the 65-year-old can get, although he hopes that is about to change.
In the wake of King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s death, Sonn has requested leniency on his two-year sentence, which judges handed down with a $3,750 fine after he claimed that installing lights at the temple would result in drilling and damage.
The government dismissed the allegation, as did the Apsara Authority.
In May, 2011, the appeal court reduced Sonn’s fine and changed the charge to incitement.
“I’m afraid I won’t go back to Cambodia if there isn’t an amnesty from King Sihamoni or Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said, having sent letters to both men. Authorities, he said, “will toss me in jail”.
Asked if Sonn would be allowed to return, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the judiciary was an independent body that made independent decisions.
“The government has a chance to overrule the court’s decision? I don’t think so.
“He misinformed people, he accused the government of destroying Angkor Wat,” Siphan said, adding that experts had debunked Sonn’s claims that the temple, Cambodia’s main tourist draw, would be harmed.
In an act that is becoming more common since Sihanouk’s death on October 15, Sonn also called for the release of political prisoners.
He asked that, among others, independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, who was sentenced to 20 years earlier this month for his involvement in a so-called secessionist plot, be released.
Lao Mong Hay, an independent analyst, said pardons normally happened during large national ceremonies, but in this case the requestors were guilty of insensitivity.
“We have to consider a suitable time, because now we are mourning the King Father.”
Sonn believes there may be a shift in the political winds after the 2013 national elections. He said he was getting older and wanted to enjoy the golden years at home.
“That’s why I have to come back: to retire in my homeland,” he said.