Officials say the fate of Moeung Sonn, who was convicted this week on disinformation charges, rests in the hands of King Sihamoni.
A CIVIL society leader sentenced to two years in prison on disinformation charges faces an uphill battle in his attempt to clear his name, said government officials who noted Thursday that only King Norodom Sihamoni can constitutionally overturn a criminal conviction.
Khmer Civilisation Foundation (KCF) Chairman Moeung Sonn told the Post from France Wednesday that he would write to King Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to apologise for the comments that led to his conviction - criticisms of a lighting scheme at Angkor Wat - and to emphasise that he "spoke out just to preserve and protect the World Heritage temple".
He should have [made the] request before the court took action...
Last week, two government critics - Sam Rainsy Party lawyer Kong Sam Onn and Dam Sith, publisher of the opposition-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper - had pending defamation charges dropped after they sent letters of apology to the prime minister.
But government officials said it would be difficult for Moeung Sonn to obtain a similar result, given that he had already been convicted.
"Right now, I think it is a little too late for him," said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers.
"He should have [made the] request before the court took action, but he kept taking action with the government."
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Moeung Sonn on Tuesday to two years in prison and ordered him to pay 15 million riels (US$ 3,581)
in fines and compensation for his criticisms of the Angkor Wat lighting scheme.
During a press conference May 26, Moeung Sonn expressed concerns that heat from the new lights, intended to draw visitors to the site after dark, could damage the 11th-century temple.
Change of tune
In a June 17 letter from Moeung Sonn to Hun Sen, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, the KCF head denied the government's allegations of disinformation and asked that they lift the charges. He made no apology or admission of error.
He said by email Thursday that he would send new apology letters once his lawyer had a chance to review them.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Thursday that it was "good" that Moeung Sonn apparently acknowledged wrongdoing, but he noted that only King Sihamoni can overturn a conviction.
Government lawyer Pal Chan Dara said the government would review Moeung Sonn's requests regardless.
"The government will consider the acknowledgement of his wrongdoing, and then decide whether to request the King to grant a partial or complete amnesty," he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said there was some hope for Moeung Sonn given that King Sihamoni generally follows the lead of the premier.
"According to the Constitution, the King doesn't have to ask anyone, but in practice he must ask the prime minister,"Sok Sam Oeun said.
When asked whether the KCF chairman would be granted amnesty once he apologises, Sok Sam Oeun replied: "I think so."