Another Activist Released: ‘If We Don’t Dare to Talk, Others Will Not’

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Khmer Thavrak’s Eng Malai after her release from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison on November 8, 2021. (Kuoy Longdy/VOD)

A Khmer Thavrak activist, released from Prey Sar Prison after 14 months in jail, says she is concerned whether she will encounter difficulties finding work again as a cook.

Eng Malai, also known as So Metta, reached the end of her sentence for incitement on Monday.

She was arrested on September 7 last year amid protests for the release of jailed unionist Rong Chhun, who had raised allegations that Cambodia was losing territory to Vietnam along the Tbong Khmum border.

Just before her arrest, Malai had spoken of her determination, knowing that social activism in Cambodia could only lead to exile, arrest or death.

“We are ready with both heart and physical [body], and we are not afraid, even a little,” she said at the time. She added that border issues were Khmer Thavrak’s primary concern.

“We are worried about losing territory,” she said last year. “Our main focus is our territory, and, in part, we have seen people’s rights to expression in our society getting smaller and smaller.”

After her release on Monday, Malai told VOD that she still considered the court’s decision against her unjust. And she was still undeterred, she said.

“I am not afraid. I said in advance that even if I am shot and killed with a single bullet, I have to dare to speak the truth, and dare to find what is bad and change it to good,” Malai said on Monday.

Emerging from her time in prison, she said it felt like there were fewer people in Cambodia willing to stand up to injustices.

“I believed all these acts would attract the hearts of the people and youth to dare to stand up like me. If we don’t dare to talk, others will also not dare to talk,” Malai said.

But practical concerns are also weighing on the activist. She described her time in prison as a hardship.

Her leg was injured in jail, and now she felt continuous pain. “At night it becomes numb,” she said. Her skin allergies had flared up, and she was unwell, she said.

Malai also described conditions in prison as an extension of society’s injustices and inequalities.

“In prison, mostly those who have the money can live easily. But for the poor who don’t have the money, they will be living in suffering like a slave,” she said.

The facilities were crowded and unhygienic, and treatment was unfair, she said.

“I just ask for intervention for the release of those who are helping the nation but have ended up arrested,” she said.

Human Rights Watch has assessed that the country currently has more than 90 political prisoners.

Two others from Khmer Thavrak were also released on Friday, and the group’s two prominent members, Hun Vannak and Chhoeun Daravy, are scheduled for release this month.

Malai said she would be looking for treatment for her leg and a job that could make the most of her skills as a cook.

But she was not sure whether people would accept her or not. She had already faced difficulties at work in the past due to her social activism, Malai said.

Nevertheless, she reiterated the importance she felt in social work.

“Today in our society, there are many people who love the nation. But those who dare to protect the nation, those who dare to protect people suffering from injustices, are less.”

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