Four Cambodian activists were released on bail during a visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill. Those freed were radio journalist Mom Sonando, union leader Rong Chhun, and Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Tieng, both with the U.S.-funded Cambodian Center for Human Rights. They were arrested several weeks ago for criticizing the Cambodian government's policy toward Vietnam. Cambodian authorities said the four will still face defamation charges.
Mr. Hill called on the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen not to put the released activists on trial. "Clearly our interest would be to see that this judicial process not go forward and that these people can be free to go about their lives," he said.
Mr. Hill said the arrest of the four Cambodians points to a larger issue:
"Cambodia is still very much a country in transition and I think it's very important that we pay attention to what's going on. And that we'll have to be very mindful of the human rights situation here. And we should be doing all that we can to encourage improvement in that situation."
The political opposition in Cambodia has been effectively silenced in the wake of systematic government repression. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy fled the country in 2005, fearing arrest. He has since been convicted in absentia of defaming government leaders and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Mr. Rainsy had accused the government of involvement in a 1997 attack on an anti-government rally in which at least sixteen Cambodians were killed and more than a hundred others injured.
The Cambodian government has taken a step in the right direction by releasing four of its critics from jail. Cambodia could demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles by, among other things, safeguarding freedom of expression.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.