Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former senator Sok Hour speaks on his time in prison



Former senator Sok Hour speaks on his time in prison

Newly released former opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour discusses his captivity of more than two years.
Newly released former opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour discusses his captivity of more than two years. Pha Lina

Former senator Sok Hour speaks on his time in prison

In an interview with The Post yesterday, former opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour opened up about his more than two-year stint in prison, following a royal pardon on Wednesday from King Norodom Sihamoni.

Sitting under the thatched roof of a gazebo in his sprawling backyard, Sok Hour recalled that just 24 hours before he had been sharing a 20-square-metre cell with 30 other people.

“I couldn’t sleep in the heat. If we had even half a metre of space to sleep, that would have been wonderful,” he said.

Sok Hour detailed the overwhelming monotony of his day-to-day life.

“I had a lot of time,” he explained.

Every day he would wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning, drink a coffee and read the English-language press. At about 8am, they would let him out for an hourlong walk – back and forth across 20 metres. Then he would eat lunch and rest before again reading the paper and taking another walk. His days would end with dinner and the radio – either Voice of America or Radio Free Asia.

“The unforgettable thing was the loss of freedom. When we are outside the prison we do not know the importance of our freedom. When we go into the prison we lose that freedom and we understand the importance,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Hong Sok Hour is escorted into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court by police after being detained by authorities in August 2015. Heng Chivoan

Sok Hour secured his release after writing Prime Minister Hun Sen a letter of apology. He insists that there had been “no political contact” between them, nor any deal agreed to.

“Over the past two years, I thought Samdech Prime Minister had reduced his anger over my actions,” he said, explaining why he wrote the letter.

Sok Hour was arrested in August 2015 after posting a “fake” border treaty on Facebook that appeared to show then-head of state Heng Samrin agreeing to dissolve the border with Vietnam. Sok Hour claimed he simply found the document online, and asked the court to forgive his mistake at the time.

Sok Hour’s pardon follows recent pledges from the premier to welcome any CNRP official who defects to the ruling CPP. Both Sok Hour and government spokesmen have denied that his release was part of a back-room deal.

“What I regret is that I asked the court to allow me to correct my mistake, but the court did not listen to my explanation,” he said.

Of particular concern, Sok Hour said, was his deteriorating health condition.

“I could not stay in the prison because I have a health problem,” he said, explaining that he would go to France soon for treatment and to visit his children.

He did, however, pledge to return to Cambodia afterwards, though he is uncertain about a political future.

More than half of CNRP lawmakers are currently abroad, with at least a dozen leaving the country since the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, who is currently held in a Tbong Khmum prison.

“I was shocked, too, that we have reached this point, but I still believe that we will not reach the zero point – the dissolution of the CNRP. On behalf of the Cambodian people, we can discuss with each other,” Sok Hour said.

Ear Sophal, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the timing of Sok Hour’s release amidst international pressure and CNRP defections was “suspicious”, but likely a coincidence.

He attributed his release to the “conciliatory letter”, saying the document was “very much the kind of letter of self-criticism one would expect under a communist regime”.

While Hun Sen has been known to ease pressure slightly after aggressively targeting political opponents, Sophal said the premier was no longer so predictable.

“He did in the past do that, but he hasn’t really taken his foot off the gas pedal in some time now . . . so the pattern is not so predictable these days,” he wrote via email on Wednesday night.

Sok Hour, however, believes there will be as many as 15 pardons to come of political prisoners, especially with international pressure mounting.

“The government knows the red line that should not be crossed,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Time to Rise by rapper, chapei legend is viral hit with ancient-modern mix

    Kong Nay is known internationally as the master of the chapei dang veng, a traditional Cambodian instrument resembling a long-necked lute or guitar with two nylon strings that he was already playing professionally by the age of 15. Nay is sometimes referred to as the Cambodian

  • Cambodia set for large-scale vaccination campaign as Covid spreads

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed all provincial authorities to get ready for a large-scale vaccination campaign, with at least one million doses to be administered per month. “We will roll out at least one million doses. The vaccines we have purchased and received as