Cambodian group launches “free expression” campaign

1 December 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC), a newly-formed coalition of rights advocates, launched on 30 November a yellow ribbon campaign to raise public awareness of freedom of expression violations in the country following the recent arrest and detention of several government critics.

Beehive Radio Station owner  Mam Sonando and Cambodia Independent Teachers’Association President Rong Chhun, along with at least six other persons, are currently under detention pending their trial for defamation and charges of public incitement brought against them by the government.

They are accused of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and are alleged to have incited public resentment against the government over their public comments on the government’s border negotiations with Vietnam.

Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated on 29 November that the government allows freedom of expression but said nobody should accuse him of selling land to Vietnam. “We give you the right to talk, but you accused me of being a national traitor, selling the land”, he said. “Let the court decide about the crime and how long you should stay in prison,” he added.

The distribution of yellow ribbon pins went smoothly in the provinces but free expression campaigners were prevented from doing so in Phnom Penh’s central market, according to the campaign’s coordinator Ou Virak.
Market authorities told them such activity would be allowed only if they obtain prior permission. But no incidents were reported elsewhere.

AFEC plans to distribute 60,000 yellow ribbon pins nationwide until 9  December, which marks the global observance of Human Rights Day. The pin bears the handwriting letter “f”, which stands for freedom against  the yellow background to suggest peaceful struggle for human rights.

The alliance comprises more than 20 NGOs advocating broad human rights, including free expression and access to basic services and government transparency.