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Cambodian Activist Made Govt Official After Apology to Hun Sen

FILE - Yim Sinorn, former president of Cambodia National Rescue Party's Youth Movement in South Korea, gave an interview to VOA Khmer, in Phnom Penh, on September 15, 2022. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

A Cambodian activist arrested for insulting the king was made a government official on Saturday after securing his release with a public apology and defecting to Prime Minister Hun Sen's party.

Yim Sinorn, formerly a close aide to a prominent Cambodian opposition leader, was detained last month and charged with insulting the monarch and incitement to commit serious unrest in comments he posted on social media.

His Facebook post followed a ceremony at Cambodia's world-famous Angkor Wat temple by King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior government officials to light the torch for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.

The activist was released on bail a week after his arrest following a public apology in which he asked the king and Hun Sen for forgiveness for his "unintentional mistake".

He then defected to Hun Sen's party and, in a marked turnaround of events, was appointed on Saturday as undersecretary of state at Cambodia's labour ministry, according to a royal decree.

Another activist arrested alongside Yim Sinorn on the same charges was also freed by a court on Saturday, according to a warrant seen by AFP.

A judge ordered prison officials to release Hun Kosal on bail but did not give reasons for the decision, according to the warrant.

Rights groups have warned that Cambodia's royal defamation laws, which carry a sentence of between one and five years in prison, could be used to crush political dissent.

Critics say Hun Sen, one of the world's longest-ruling leaders, has wound back democratic freedoms as he prepares for a general election in July and has used the courts to stifle opposition.

Opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years in jail last month and placed under house arrest for treason over an alleged plot with foreigners to topple Hun Sen's government.