Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Victory in Cambodia?

Superficially, this seems to be a good day for freedom of speech: first Turkey dropped charges of "insulting Turkishness" against novelist Orhan Pamuk, and now Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has done likewise against four opposition activists. Kem Sokha, Mom Sonando, Rong Chhun and Pa Nguon Tieng had all been arrested on criminal defamation charges; now they have all been released. But while I'm glad that they are at least out of jail, I'm not sure that this is much of a "victory": the four were released only after they had written letters apologising to the Prime Minister for criticising him. So rather than being a rejection of the government's "right" to use the coercive power of the state to limit criticism, this instead seems to be a confirmation of it.

We should also remember that, as in Turkey, others are still facing charges, and in some cases have even fled the country to avoid arrest. And the Cambodian government shows no sign of dismissing charges against them. So again, it's not much of a victory; freedom of speech still has a long way to go in Cambodia.