Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Activists launch ‘White Sunday’ movement for release of ‘political prisoners’

Activists launch ‘White Sunday’ movement for release of ‘political prisoners’

Cambodian Center for Independent Media Director Pa Nguon Teang (centre) posted a photo of himself dressed in white to launch the ‘White Sunday’ campaign demanding the release of political prisoners. Photo supplied
Cambodian Center for Independent Media Director Pa Nguon Teang (centre) posted a photo of himself dressed in white to launch the ‘White Sunday’ campaign demanding the release of political prisoners. Photo supplied

Activists launch ‘White Sunday’ movement for release of ‘political prisoners’

A trio of former CNRP members and a civil society representative yesterday launched a so-called White Sunday campaign calling for the release of political prisoners, drawing a strong rebuke from an Interior Ministry official who said participation in the campaign could invite further legal action.

In three separate posts, the participants showed themselves dressed in white calling for the release of 24 “political prisoners”, including former CNRP leader Kem Sokha; ex-Khmer National United Party leader Nhek Bun Chhay; two jailed RFA reporters; land activist Tep Vanny; and other CNRP members previously convicted of “insurrection”.

The campaign is similar to the Black Monday protests launched in May 2016 calling for the release of four staffers from rights NGO Adhoc and one election official, who were held in pre-trial detention for over a year in relation to an alleged sex scandal involving Sokha and a hairdresser.

Cambodian Center for Independent Media Director Pa Nguon Teang was one of the first to post about the new campaign, attaching a photo of himself dressed in white to the message: “White Sunday. Release political prisoners in Cambodia”.

Former CNRP members Hing Soksan and Suon Rida also took to Facebook to support the campaign, with the latter asking for others to join in by wearing white every Sunday.

“Join us for White Sunday for the release of Kem Sokha and political prisoners by dressing in white on Sundays,” Sorida wrote on Facebook.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the participating CNRP members had been banned from political activity following the dissolution of the party in November, and, should other NGOs join, officials would check if they were violating their bylaws by endorsing the campaign.

Sopheak took direct aim at Sokha’s daughter and CNRP official Kem Monovithya, saying she would be arrested on arrival in Cambodia, while calling her lobbying of foreign governments since her father’s arrest a treasonous act.

Monovithya has been overseas meeting foreign dignitaries and governments and has called for targeted sanctions on senior government officials responsible for the crackdown on the CNRP. Her father has been in Tbong Khmum prison since September on charges of “treason”, for allegedly receiving support from the United States in planning his political career.

“We will wait for her at Pochentong [Airport] to give her the flowers and then escort her to a five-star hotel. We will keep her at the five-star hotel in the VIP rooms,” Sopheak said sarcastically, referring to her potential imprisonment.

In recent weeks, government officials have been ramping up rhetoric against Monovithya.

“None of these threats is new and certainly will not stop me from advocating for the survival of Cambodia’s democracy that has been completely destroyed by their dictatorial iron fist,” she said yesterday in a message.

Yesterday, Sopheak also threatened to extend the five-year ban on the 118 senior CNRP officials already targeted, and said NGOs would be shuttered if they violated their internal bylaws submitted to the ministry. However, despite repeated amendments to political and electoral laws over the past year, it is unclear what legal mechanism could be used to extend the ban.

As of late last night, all three “White Sunday” posts were from overseas, with none appearing in a search online from Cambodians in the country.

“[We] do not want to do wrong activities against the bylaws that will lead to accusations or questions on our work,” said farmer coalition head Theng Savoeun, adding that he would probably sit out the campaign.

Boeung Kak activist Song Sreyleap said she had not heard about the campaign or its goals, but felt that it was risky. The lake activists were at the forefront of the Black Monday campaign and during one such protest last year, prominent Boeung Kak resident Tep Vanny was arrested and slapped with a slew of other dormant criminal cases.

“We have not received the clear information from the White Sunday campaign. If we do it now, it is very risky,” she said.

Political analyst Meas Nee said Cambodians had the constitutional right to call for the release of political prisoners and that the government should allow the self-exiled opposition members to return without fear of reprisals, referring specifically to Monovithya.

“The appeal is the right of each Cambodian to demand what they want. For me, the government should not react by closing this or that,” he said, referring to civil society groups.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group