‘Friday Women’ Activist Dies Fighting for Husband’s Release

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Som Chanthou, left, at a Friday Women protest in August 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)

Friday Women activists who have long protested for the release of their political-prisoner husbands recalled the efforts of a recently deceased member, Som Chanthou.

Chanthou, 53, wife of former opposition Prey Veng provincial councilor Sok Chantha, died December 20 from high blood pressure and diabetes at Phnom Penh’s Preah Kossamak Hospital, her family said. She spent two days at the hospital, and the admission followed a weeklong visit to her husband in Tbong Khmum’s Trapeang Phlong Prison, activists said.

Chanthou was a friendly, gentle person, who joined the group’s protests despite struggles with poverty, said Friday Women member Prum Chantha, 45.

“She tried to come. She was far away and she sometimes rode a motorbike, and sometimes got into a traffic accident with scratches on her hands and feet. She said it was OK. She still came and she tried really hard. I felt very sorry for her. I’m honestly very sorry to have lost her.”

Chanthou had often spoken of her intention to see her husband be released from prison and reunite with his family, but she had not been able to see that dream come to fruition, Chantha added.

“I will ask to make a statue of her, to remember her heroism and struggle for the people of Cambodia in general.”

Another Friday Women member, Ouk Chanthy, 55, said she had countless memories with Chanthou during their nearly three years together demanding justice. Sometimes the authorities would push them and hurt them, but Chanthou remained determined to return, Chanthy said.

“As soon as I got to [the hospital], she reached out and took my hand, and I took her hand back, and she burst into tears. I shed the same tears, expressing my emotions. To be able to fight further, she held my hand tightly. … I can not accept this has happened.”

Chanthou’s son, Sok Chamroeun, 28, said his father had not been allowed to see his mother in hospital one last time. He added that after his father was imprisoned, the burden of the family fell on his mother, who sold crickets and fried shrimp on her bicycle in her village.

“My mother was very sad that her husband, who defended the nation and fought for the nation, was accused of treason. At the time she was very sad. Now she is dead.”

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