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Kak Sovann Chhay said he hoped to be able to continue to fight. — AFP pic
Kak Sovann Chhay said he hoped to be able to continue to fight. — AFP pic

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PHNOMH PENH, Nov 10 — An autistic teenager jailed for writing messages deemed insulting to the Cambodian government vowed to continue “to fight for patriots” after he was released from prison today.

The son of a jailed opposition figure, 16-year-old Kak Sovann Chhay was arrested in late June for posts on a private group on the Telegram messaging service—a move that drew alarm from rights groups over the treatment of children with disabilities.

In a statement, three UN rights experts condemned Kak Sovann Chhay’s case as a “shameful nadir in the authorities’ continuing campaign of intimidation and violence against” critics of the Cambodian government.

Strongman leader Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders and has been in power for 36 years, during which critics say he has winded back democratic freedoms and used the courts to stifle opposition.

Last week, a court ruled Kak Sovann Chhay’s messages constituted incitement and were insulting to public officials, and sentenced him to eight months in prison.

He had already been in custody for four months and the remainder of the term was suspended for two years.

Released today, the teenager walked out to his tearful mother and a handful of supporters, who put flower garlands around his neck.

The group then went to a nearby Buddhist temple, where an orange-robed monk blessed him by splashing water on his head as he prayed.

“I am released and have freedom, but I hope I will be able to continue to fight,” he told reporters.

“I will fight for the patriots to help the nation.”

The boy’s father, Kak Komphea, is a former member of the dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party and has been in jail since last year.

He is among more than 150 opposition figures facing a closed-door trial for allegedly agitating for the toppling of the ruling party, which is led by Hun Sen.

While happy about her son’s release, activist Prum Chantha, 44, said Kak Sovann Chhay is still under the court’s supervision.

“The charges against him have not been dropped—this is called walking out from a jail into a prison without walls,” she said. — AFP                 

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