The 16-year-old son of a jailed opposition activist was released from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison this morning after four and a half months in jail for incitement and insult.
He said he accepted the court’s conviction, but said he would “move forward” and that people must continue to “resist.”
The teenager’s arrest in June over messages he sent online has attracted criticism from the U.N. and international human rights groups. His family says the 16-year-old is autistic. The teenager has served his sentence and his mother gave permission to identify him.
Kak Sovannchhay, released to a throng of journalists and supporters outside Correctional Center 2 on Wednesday morning, knelt down in front of his mother to pay respects before hugging each other and receiving a bouquet of flowers.
He cried as people around him asked him to stop crying. He raised his right hand and said, “We must resist and we will be successful. … We must be strong.”
He added that he accepted the court’s conviction. “I committed wrong,” he said. “I hope to get my freedom and continue to move forward.”
His mother, Prum Chantha, looked over her son and said she was concerned for his health, as his legs were covered in rashes.
The teenager was sentenced last week to four months and 15 days in prison following a trial that saw the prosecutor suggest the boy could not be autistic as he had used social media groups and messaging.
After the conviction, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the case was “outrageous and unacceptable.”
It “signifies a new low in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s witch hunt against his political opponents,” Robertson said on November 1. “This whole trial proves once again just how broken Cambodia’s justice system is.”
The conviction and release have coincided with those of around a dozen activists in jail for incitement. Members of activist groups Khmer Thavrak and Khmer Student Intelligent League Association were also convicted last week and have been gradually released since Friday.
Last week, U.N. experts said the teenager’s conviction was “a shameful nadir in the authorities’ continuing campaign of intimidation and violence against civil society and opposition activists.”
The boy’s father, opposition CNRP activist Kak Komphear, remains in jail for two cases involving plotting, incitement and insult charges, while his mother has become an active protester.
“We see the conviction and the conditions imposed on his liberty as a very transparent attempt by the authorities to prevent his mother from demonstrating for the release of her husband,” said the U.N. experts, Cambodia human rights rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn, freedom of expression rapporteur Irene Khan and human rights defenders rapporteur Mary Lawlor.
“We are extremely troubled by the verdicts, which again reaffirm the methodical and systematic erosion of civic and political space in Cambodia,” they said. “We are truly alarmed that the courts are again being weaponised to silence any form of dissent, including peaceful activism that is protected under the right to freedom of expression.”