Cambodian human rights groups launch nationwide campaign

Cambodian human rights groups launched a nationwide campaign on Wednesday demanding that the government end restrictions on freedom of expression. The 19 private groups announced the formation of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia in response to the recent arrest of a journalist and a union leader in criminal defamation lawsuits filed by the government.

"This urgent campaign comes at a time of threat against freedom of expression and arrest of those who have merely expressed their opinion," Kem Sokha, director of the U.S.-funded Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told a news conference.

He said the campaigners will wear yellow ribbons symbolizing "our need and support of freedom of expression."

The groups also called on Cambodian courts to stop using criminal laws to arrest, charge and convict people who criticize government policy.

Mom Sonando, the director of a private radio station, and Rong Chhun, the leader of a teachers' union, are currently in jail on defamation charges stemming from their criticism of a border treaty Prime Minister Hun Sen signed with Vietnam in October. Nationalist critics allege the pact hands disputed territory to Vietnam.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen said his government was not restricting freedom of expression, but merely taking action against those who made false allegations against him and his government on the territorial issue. He also said he was opposed to any attempt to have the two critics released and that they should be judged by the courts, reports the AP. I.L.

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