Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Yeng Virak on bail; outcry continues

Yeng Virak on bail; outcry continues

Yeng Virak on bail; outcry continues

Police, above, form a perimeter around the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in Phnom Penh as defiant activist Kem Sokha.

Vowing to redouble his efforts at the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), activist

Yeng Virak was freed on bail on January 11 after spending 11 days inside Prey Sar

prison on charges of criminal defamation.

Virak, who must still face charges in criminal court, becomes the first of the recently

arrested batch of five journalists and human rights activists arrested for allegedly

defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Later the same day in a speech at the National Summit on Micro-Finance, Hun Sen defended

the arrests against strident criticism from the international diplomatic community

and rights groups, insisting instead that he was "a victim."

"The human rights workers had gone beyond the limit of their rights. For myself,

personally, that is OK, but they even attacked the regime as a whole," he said.

"When they accuse this regime of being a dictatorial regime and want to topple

this regime, what does that mean? We acted only in accordance with the rule of law

and of the courts. The government did not use force to arrest anyone and the issues

of detention or charges or punishment are all up to the courts to decide."

But on January 12 the criticism of the government continued as more than 60 national

and international organizations joined 155 members of civil society to issue a statement

urging authorities to release and drop all charges against the four still-detained

human rights activists and to discontinue any plans for further arrests and prosecution.

"We welcome the release on bail of Yeng Virak on January 11, and hope that all

charges will be dropped against him and the other four individuals," read the

Joint Statement on the Arrests of Human Rights Activists.

"We are concerned that defamation charges may continue to be used to arrest

individuals who dare to express their opinions, and that citizens will become increasingly

afraid to exercise their freedom of expression. The free and public expression of

opinions, including those which are critical of the government and its leaders, is

a fundamental human right and an essential feature of any truly democratic country."

US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli told the Post the international community was concerned

by the pattern of arrests and confounded by its reasoning.

"We're all concerned. We honestly don't see the justification for the arrests

- especially the last one. The government is not about to topple... and there's no

indication of instability anywhere in the country," he said. "I shouldn't

speak for the whole donor community, but there is widespread concern that the government

has gone too far this time, and for no reason."

Kem Sokha, is taken into custody on the morning of December 31.

Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), was arrested

and detained on December 31.

"While I am thankful for my release, my first thoughts go to those who remain

in jail or are in hiding [accused of] defamation," said Virak in a prepared


Kem Sokha, President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) was arrested

on December 31 and Pa Nguon Teang, deputy director of the CCHR was arrested on January

4. Both have been detained in Prey Sar prison since their arrests.

The defamation charges against Sokha and Teang were allegedly based on the contents

of a handwritten banner seen at a rally marking International Human Rights Day on

December 10 at the Olympic Stadium. The banner reportedly accused Hun Sen of ceding

Cambodian land to Vietnam.

Statements issued by the World Bank, the US State Department, the United Nations

High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation, the Alliance

for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia, the International Republican Institute and

the 36 local NGOs forming the Alliance for Freedom and Advocacy also expressed condemnation

of the government's action.

Amnesty International's Southeast Asia researcher, Brittis Edam, wrote, "The

government cannot lay the blame for this on the courts. It is manipulating the justice

system itself and in doing so is undermining the credibility and independence of

the judiciary."

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told Radio Free Asia that he questioned

the neutrality of the judiciary in this matter.

"If the law was going to be applied objectively, Hun Sen himelf would already

have been charged on many occasions," Adams was quoted as saying. "He has

made many statements over the years inciting people to violence. He has threatened

foreign embassies, he has threatened foreign governments, he has threatened opposition

members.... This is a question of the law being used as a tool against political


Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Center, expresses relief as he leaves Prey Sar prison on January 11 with his wife, Prak Som Ean, and son, Prak Som Ean.

The president of the Independent Teachers' Association, Rong Chhun, and Mam Sonando,

owner of radio station Beehive FM 105, are being held in prison and arrest warrants

have been issued for others who allegedly criticized Hun Sen over the border issue.

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) parliamentarian Cheam Channy was dismissed from the National

Assembly and sentenced to jail for seven years after being found guilty by a military

court of raising an illegal army.

Sam Rainsy, leader of the SRP, was sentenced in absentia to 18 months after being

found guilty of defamation against Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, President

of the National Assembly. Rainsy accused Ranariddh of taking a bribe to form the

current coalition government following a year-long political deadlock.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers, Ea Channa, representative

of the Students' Movement for Democracy, Men Nath, president of the Civil Servants

Association, Prince Sisowath Thomico, personal adviser to retired King Norodom Sihanouk,

Say Bory, a member of the Constitutional Council and also an adviser to Sihanouk

have all fled Cambodia fearing arrest.


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