CAMBODIAN-AMERICAN POLITICAL PRISONER THEARY SENG BEGINS ONE-WEEK HUNGER STRIKE
Seng demands transfer to Phnom Penh prison and same rights as other prisoners, including access to Church services and phone calls
PREAH VIHEAR PRISON, CAMBODIA – Today, Theary Seng began a one-week hunger strike in the rural Preah Vihear Prison – where she was clandestinely sent a six-hour drive from Phnom Penh to keep her far away from her family, counsel, and supporters. Theary is calling upon authorities to transfer her immediately back to Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh. She is also demanding the same rights that other prisoners have but she has been repeatedly denied, including having weekly access to Church services and the ability to regularly make phone calls. Theary has been detained since June 14, 2022, following a sham mass trial that received an “F” grade from the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Initiative. She was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for “conspiracy to commit treason” and “incitement to create gross chaos impacting public security” alongside dozens of other activists and political opposition leaders.
Theary’s parents were murdered by the Khmer Rouge and she was imprisoned in Cambodia as a young child. She escaped and fled to the U.S., where she obtained her bachelors’ and law degrees, before returning to Cambodia in 2004 to found two NGOs aimed at human rights and civic engagement.
Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, remarked “I met Theary in 2009, when she became lead educator for RFK Human Rights’ education program across Cambodia. She was deeply respected for her commitment to ending impunity, for holding dictator Hun Sen to account, and for courageously speaking truth to power. In retaliation, she lived under constant threat but was never been silent.” Jared Genser, Managing Director of Perseus Strategies, added “Theary’s courage, grace, and dignity in standing up to Hun Sen are an inspiration to her people.” And Margaux Ewen, Director of the Freedom House Political Prisoners Initiative, said: “Theary was convicted under provisions of the Cambodian Criminal Code that are routinely weaponized against human rights and democracy activists.”
Shortly after her conviction, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price noted, “All Cambodians should be able to exercise their human rights” and called upon Cambodian authorities to release “all those unjustly detained, including Theary Seng.” Likewise, Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy all urged Theary’s immediate and unconditional release. Later, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pressed Hun Sen in person in Phnom Penh on August 4 to release Theary and all activists detained on politically motivated charges.
From November 12-14, President Biden will attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and visit Phnom Penh, where he is expected to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Theary’s international team calls upon the President to press Hun Sen for Theary’s freedom – and freedom for all the political prisoners of Cambodia.
Perseus Strategies and RFK Human Rights serve as pro bono counsel to Theary Seng. Freedom House is also providing her with support.
This time, I am reminded of an article I wrote about “The Repute of Angkor Wat” in 2002. Once, the Siamese army tried to relocate the Ta Phrom Temple to rebuild in Thailand under the order of King of Ayuthya, those armies were beheaded and let them back a few to report to the King that all Khmer ruins were not abandoned as perceived. Few survival armies mentioned the swift and brave Angkor warriors whose villagers living in the nearby areas, appeared from the forest with horses and swords killed the Siamese armies in a sudden.
Bad rumours or news on Angkor Wat resulted in many catastrophes such as the burning of Thai embassy in 2004. When a Phnom Penh newspaper falsely reported that a popular Thai actress claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand, Cambodians rioted in the capital, destroying the Thai Embassy and dozens of Thai-owned businesses (Los Angeles Time).
Prof. Dr. Ang Chulean, who were first President of Apsara Authority, and later were believed left the post because of his critical opinion against the building of toilets surrounding Angkor ruins complex, articulated the important villages and people living surrounding the complex. Those people and villages must not be relocated and demolished. In his interview with Thmey Thmey local online newspaper, he called those people and villages the “life heritage” reflecting the contrast to of those stone-castle heritage of Angkor Wat and nearby ruins.
Actually, the UNESCO’s Articles on Angkor Protection under World Heritage Scheme in the initial legal adoption chaired by King Norodom Sihanouk, descripted the important of having villagers settled around the ruins decades or centuries ago.
With the repeating escalating speech to relocating villagers surrounding Angkor Wat and nearby ruins by Prime Minister Hun Sen, over 3000 people rallied to Banteay Srey commune headquarter in October 6-7-8-9, to protest against these relocating attempts. Villagers whom feared of reprisal and traumatized by egregious political intimidations, conducted both anonymous protests through social media and come out to the streets with face masked on, demanding the authority not to relocate them by allowing them to live peacefully in their inheriting property such as homes and lands; they reject any cost of compensation to relocate them; they reject negotiation with the authority; they are desiring only to live peacefully in their inheriting lands and homes passed to them many generations; they are proud of their ancestors leaving them current plot of land, etc.
According to Hun Sen, Ron Ta Ek new development is a new plot of land for those villagers to relocate to. Looking closely, the villagers most of them are new settlers to the ruins vicinity, accepted the small amount of compensation and monthly social service money (named poor certificate card), to live in Ron Ta Ek two years ago, hence the area itself is not visibly developed and most of the villagers are not living there, major homes are abandoned. They have come back to live where they can afford income and employment, or migrated to work in Thailand.
In contrast, like Sihanouk Ville or other special economic zone (SMDs) entire Cambodia, Cambodian tycoons and Chinese companies have worked with powerful Cambodian shareholders in the secrete and bribery deals to relocate villagers in the name of development. For Siem Reap, according to this news outlet, NagaCorp which is the notorious beneficiaries of Naga World Casino, is going to invest over 350 millions dollars covering lands of 75 hectare in the 500m distance surrounding Angkor Wat and ruins complex.
Abdicate the policy of development for the riches, or use development schemes as excuse to lure Cambodian citizens to be prey and dismantle their livelihood existence as well as family harmony.
Be confident on the UNESCO’s policy as well as United Nations’; all developments are placing human rights and human dignity first, not profit or partisan first at all.
Cambodian citizens must stand firm, from lessons learnt entire Cambodia, no body can help us beside ourselves. All Siem Reapers must stand up against all injustice and relocation policy, not only today, this month, but keep close pre-alert forever.
Use community media (social media, cell phones, youtube, twitter, etc.) effectively to protect your own interests.
Article by Sophoan Seng, October 15, 2022, @copyrights
We, the Cambodian citizens living in Canada and United States of America, propose to the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia to adopt the law allowing all Cambodians overseas to exercise rights to vote in each country which they are living. This is in conformity with the Chapter 33 of the Constitution of Royal Kingdom of Cambodia stating that “Cambodian people living overseas are aided by the State”.
Majority of overseas Cambodians continue to be concerned for the welfare of their homeland and have the determination to participate in the destiny of their motherland through the elections of their representatives in Cambodia.
We understand that the process of a free, fair, just and acceptable election to ensure stability, democracy, and genuine development requires the participation of all Cambodian citizens living inside or outside of Cambodia and for them to exercise their rights to vote without barriers and obstructions. The National Election Committee (NEC) must have true independence, transparency, and integrity including opening space for democracy by allowing the participation of all those with different political beliefs and with the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and dropping all charges against all politicians in exile so that they can equally participate in the upcoming 2023 national election.
We want to see the upcoming 2023 election be conducted in a credible political environment that allows all citizens from all political beliefs to participate and be accepted by all parties and by the international community.
We want to see the upcoming election 2023 is full of credible political environment participated by all political beliefs and parties and could be accepted by all parties and international organizations.
Signatures representing Cambodians overseas living in Canada and the United States of America
The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on Canada Day:
“Today, we celebrate the country we love, and the people we share it with. Canada is home to over 38 million people: Canadians who live in cities and towns – big and small; people who are indigenous to this land; and those who’ve been here for weeks, months, years, or for generations.“
Canada is strong because of our diversity. No matter what our faith is, where we were born, what colour our skin is, what language we speak, or who we love – we are all equal members of this great country.“
Today, we celebrate the place we all call home. I know for some, our country’s historic wrongs can make that difficult. But while we can’t change history, we can put in the work to build a better future; one that reflects our values of hope, resilience, kindness, respect, and generosity.
“Generation after generation, Canadians have shown that we can deliver on those values. We did it when we adopted our charter in 1982, we did it when we took care of each other during the pandemic, and we do it every day when we welcome refugees with open arms.
“Today is an opportunity for us all to recommit ourselves to those values – values that the Maple Leaf represents. Because our flag is more than a symbol, it’s also a promise. A promise of opportunity. A promise of safety for those fleeing violence and war. And a promise of a better life.
“As we come together today, let’s think about what this country means to us – and tomorrow, let’s challenge ourselves to find new ways to live up to the great promise of Canada.