The Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR) organized a conference on Monday on freedom of expression at the Phnom Penh Hotel. Among those who attended are the U.S. Charge d'Affairs, Mark C. Storella, the Canadian ambassador to Cambodia, at least 31 civil societies, and representatives from the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
The conference took place after the arrest and detention of Mam Sonando, director of Beehive FM 105 radio station, and Rong Chhun, director of Cambodian Independent Teachers Association in Prey Sar prison, and a threat to arrest a number of activists who have fled Cambodia.
The civil societies issue a statement asking the government to withdraw the lawsuit and the charges against its critics. They say the government' actions have a serious impact on the freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution. They demand to reinstate the freedom of speech, and to release Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun without any conditions.
CCHR president Kem Sokha reiterates the goals of the conference saying that it gathers the views from national and international NGOs and from the diplomats on the freedom of expression in Cambodia. The civil societies also appeal to the government and the legislative branch to review and amend the law to insure the freedom of speech and press freedom in Cambodia.
U.S. Charge d'Affairs in Phnom Penh, Mark C. Storella, said that the civil societies' work is very important in strengthening human rights in Cambodia, and that freedom of expression is fundamental to democracy in Cambodia. He also condemns the arrest and detention of Mr. Mam Sonando and Mr. Rong Chhun. He appeals to the Cambodian people to be courageous and stand up and express their opinion peacefully.
Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that the freedom of expression is different from defamation. He said border issue is extremely sensitive for Cambodia and that saying the government sells land to another country is a very serious charge. The government spokesman appears to be mocking the US for indicting two journalists for not revealing the sources in the CIA leak investigation. He said Cambodia has not indicted any journalist for not willing to reveal their sources.
The civil societies allege that they agree to create a debate team for strengthening the freedom of expression in Cambodia.