Opposition activist released after apologizing for comments about king

Yim Sinorn’s Facebook comments last week had resulted in an incitement charge.
By RFA Khmer
2023.03.28
Opposition activist released after apologizing for comments about king Yim Sinorn, one of the two Cambodian opposition activists recently arrested after online comments about Cambodia’s king, holds his prison release notice on March 28, 2023.
Credit: Fresh News

An opposition activist who was jailed after posting comments on Facebook about the government and Cambodia’s constitutional monarch was released on Tuesday after he apologized to Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court released Yim Sinorn after he posted a video and a statement from prison apologizing for last week’s messages about the king.

The messages drew a lot of attention from online commentators, which prompted the court to charge Yim Sinorn with incitement and with insulting the king. He posted a comment on Facebook on Tuesday that he didn’t intend to insult the king.

“I take this occasion to ask for forgiveness from the king and apologize to Samdech Hun Sen publicly with honesty,” Yim Sinorn said.

In his message last week that led to his address, Yim Sinorm wrote: “According to the people at the coffee shop, today we clearly know who is truly the king.”

Yim Sinorm seemed to be highlighting Sihamoni’s political powerlessness, which is mandated by a requirement in Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution that he reign as a national figurehead while leaving governing to the National Assembly and the prime minister’s Council of Ministers. 

A second activist, Hun Kosal, is still being held by authorities.

Hun Kosal later wrote that it has been sad “to see they have hurt the king’s heart and degraded the king’s power in all aspects,” a reference to how Hun Sen’s government has interacted with Sihamoni, who took the throne in 2004.

ENG_KHM_ActivistReleased_03282023.2.jpg
Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni [left] talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen during the country’s 68th Independence Day celebration in Phnom Penh on Nov. 9, 2021. Credit: Associated Press

Appeals to the king

Sihamoni, a European-educated former dance instructor, has preferred to remain in the shadows as king. 

But some in the opposition have called on him over the years to challenge Hun Sen’s repression of their ranks. Recently, Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party have been working to silence and intimidate opposition figures ahead of the July general elections. 

“As a politician of the new generation, I am determined to use all my ability to join forces with Kem Sokha to protect the power and the throne of the king,” Hun Kosal wrote in another one of his messages last week.

Earlier this month, opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason. He continues to deny the charges that led to his arrest in 2017, which was made several months after the Cambodia National Rescue Party – which he led – had made large gains in local commune elections.

Yim Sinorn has previously worked as an activist for the now-banned CNRP. 

Last week, the prime minister exchanged comments with his own supporters on Yim Sinorn’s Facebook page, suggesting that Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal were already guilty. 

“It would be weird if they are not guilty because [what they said] is not an expression of opinion, but it is a distortion of the truth with an intent,” he wrote. “Whatever it is, leave it for the court to decide.”

After Yim Sinorn released his apology statement on Tuesday, Judge Yi Sok Vouch issued an order to the Prey Sar Prison Department to release him on bail. The order did not give an explanation behind the release. 

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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