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VOA Exclusive Interview with Kem Sokha on the Day He was Arrested

The following is the transcript of VOA's exclusive telephone interview with Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) on the day he was arrested (Saturday, December 31, 2005)

We apologize for the poor audio quality because it was conducted by cell phone to cell phone and because of the loud sound of the police siren.

Khemara: How do you defend yourself?

Kem Sokha: According to the laws, I did not insult or defame anyone. First of all, I did not write the banner. It's the people who wrote that banner. Secondly, the display of the banner on December 10 was not my responsibility. There was a committee that was responsible for checking all the banners that went on display. The ones that were not approved were not on display that day. Even all the speeches were checked first, including my speech. When we were told that that banner was not appropriate, we took it off immediately. We did not protest. Also, at that time I was sick. I had a sore throat. I took a rest and let one of my employees took over. I am not part of the organizing committee.

Khemara: What did the judge ask you and what did you explain to the judge?

Kem Sokha: I told him that first of all I did not insult or defame any one and that I did not write that banner. It's the people who wrote it. And that day was the International Human Rights Day. And that I did not organize it. It was organized by a committee. I told him I was sick at the time. But the judge did not say anything. He just issued a warrant to detain me right away even though we tried to..(inaudible).

Khemara: What are the challenges for Cambodia now that human rights officials can face defamation charges?

Kem Sokha: I think the Cambodian people must be very worried now that I, who always do things peacefully, can face such threats. I always do things allowed by the constitution. Also that was the International Human Rights Day. So I think the Cambodian people must feel very hopeless. I know the international community knows about my arrest because today (December 31, 2005) the day I am arrested, the British Ambassador, the United States Ambassador, the diplomats from the Japanese Embassy, and the other embassies were there to witness it. Human Rights Watch, and many international and local organizations and other embassies also know about my arrest. I would like to clarify with the government that I did not insult or defame Samdech Prime Minister (Hun Sen). I did not check what the people had written. I was not responsible for..(inaudible). And if Samdech Prime Minister or the government think that the people's banner affected him or the government, I don't know how he's going to punish them because this is people's rights. However, as the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, if the government wants me to apologize for the people who had written the banner, I will do it in order to end the problem because I don't want this problem to affect the government's efforts to rebuild the country that was being supported by the international community. This is a loss for the Cambodian people.

Khemara: Was there any guarantees or any encouragement from the United States Ambassador and other foreign embassies?

Kem Sokha: (Inaudible)..they had a lot of discussion, but they..(inaudible)..the government's court. They only witnessed it and they will intervene. This time it's not like before. It's not going to be the same as before. My case is not the case of someone who wants to compete for power from the government like the opposition party. I only want to educate people about democracy and about their rights. My organization is a human rights organization. I am not..(inaudible)..As soon as they (foreign ambassadors and international NGOs) heard about it, they all came.

Khemara: What do you think are the effects on your human rights organization now that you are arrested?

Kem Sokha: This is an important encouragement for me. This is to confirm that I am not alone. I serve the principles of democracy and human rights. I serve the people. Other people are aware, they are concerned and they pay attention. I hope the government inform me what they want and I will do it by the rules of law so that foreign aids to Cambodia will not be affected because of me. If the government wants me to apologize for other people, I will do it to avoid any pressures on Cambodia from the international community.

Khemara: Were you puzzled or surprised when you were arrested?

Kem Sokha: I think it's an excessive measure because like I said before, I was not responsible in this matter. I did not insult or defame anyone. I am very surprised. I don't know why I am accused this way because on December 10, everything was organized by a committee.

Khemara: What would you like to say to the Cambodian people or to the members of..(inaudible)..?

Kem Sokha: I would like to tell the people to remain calm. The struggle for democracy and human rights is carried out by peaceful means. Please do not resort to violence.

Khemara: Thank you.