Some 200 human rights advocates and other activists on Saturday began a three-day march to demand the Cambodian government guarantee freedom of expression. Leading them was Kem Sokha, president of the U.S.-funded Cambodian Center of Human Rights, who was released last month from jail where he had been detained on criminal defamation charges brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Kem Sokha said the government uses criminal defamation suits to intimidate its critics and stifle free speech. "Our purpose in organizing this march is to support and demand guarantees for freedom of expression and nonviolence in society," Kem Sokha said before the start of the march.
The march is the first permitted by the government in three years. The government banned peaceful demonstrations by civil society groups in 2003 after nationalistic protests against Thailand turned violent and led to rioting and the razing of the Thai Embassy.
The protesters, mostly members of local human rights groups, were joined by 50 Buddhist monks on their march from the capital, Phnom Penh, to Ouddong, an ancient city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north. They wore yellow caps and jackets with yellow ribbons pinned on them as a symbol of freedom of expression and nonviolence.
Hun Sen launched proceedings against Kem Sokha and several others after they criticized him over a border demarcation pact he signed with Vietnam in October. Domestic and international critics condemned the prime minister's actions, saying the government was using the law to intimidate and incarcerate its critics.
Kem Sokha said he will write a letter to Hun Sen after the march urging him to abolish the law that allows criminal defamation action, and called the situation for government critics "very dangerous." Radio journalist Mom Sonando, union leader Rong Chhun and human rights activist Pa Nguon Tieng, who were jailed on charges similar to Kem Sokha's, also joined the march.
The march is the first permitted by the government in three years. The government banned peaceful demonstrations by civil society groups in 2003 after nationalistic protests against Thailand turned violent and led to rioting and the razing of the Thai Embassy, reports the AP.
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