Prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny has started a US tour where she will meet Cambodian-American community leaders and advocate for human rights.
Vanny was recently released from prison after more than two years in jail for taking part in a protest in Phnom Penh.
“After I was released from prison, I came here to meet them [US officials] and ask them to push for the respect of human rights, real democracy, and also to end impunity in Cambodia, especially the manipulation of the judicial system to arrest and detain innocent people and nationalists like myself,” she said.
“The situation in Cambodia is difficult now as they restrict us everywhere. Even though I am out of a prison with walls, I am now in a prison without walls. My freedom of expression and freedom of assembly do not exist and we live in fear as they do all kinds of intimidation that they can do. It’s not only me who lives in fear, but also my family.”
Vanny was the most prominent advocate for the rights of the Boeung Kak community in Phnom Penh, who were displaced by a developer with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“We are motivated to be brave even though we know that by leaving home, we will never know if we have a chance to come back home to meet our children and family. We need to step forward and do more advocacy... If we can’t protect our home, we can’t protect our children, then our children will lose their future.”
Janet Seng, head of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s US women’s network, said Vanny had met US congressional staff on Thursday.
“The pressure means more restrictions such as freezing assets for individuals, restricting them to enter the United States, and now they are looking to do large-scale sanctions that they don’t want to do yet,” she said.