Cambodia should release detained autistic teenager, UN experts say

This undated handout courtesy of Prum Chantha received on September 2, 2021 shows her son Kak Sovann Chhay posing for a selfie in front of a temple gate in Cambodia. — AFP pic
This undated handout courtesy of Prum Chantha received on September 2, 2021 shows her son Kak Sovann Chhay posing for a selfie in front of a temple gate in Cambodia. — AFP pic

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PHNOM PENH, Sept 2 — An autistic teenage boy detained for two months in Cambodia over messages he sent on Telegram allegedly insulting officials should be released immediately, UN experts said today.

Kak Sovann Chhay, 16, the son of two opposition figures, was arrested in late June and faces up to two years in jail if convicted.

Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia Vitit Muntarbhorn and three other UN experts said the teenager had been interrogated without a lawyer or guardian.

“We strongly appeal to the Cambodian government to release this child and to ensure that his human rights are protected,” Muntarbhorn said.

“Children with disabilities accused of breaking the law should be treated in line with the best interests of the child, and every effort should be made to keep them out of jail.”

The boy’s father, a former member of the dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party, has been in jail since June 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 Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Strongman Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders and has been in power for 36 years during which he has presided over the jailing of political opponents and a winding back of democratic freedoms.

The autistic teenager’s mother, activist Prum Chantha, 44, said the family was in despair.

Her son had only defended himself and his relatives in Telegram messages after being bullied by people who called him the “son of a traitor”, she said.

“For more than two months now I have not seen my son’s face. I can’t even hear his voice,” she told AFP.

“I go to the prison every five days, but I am not allowed to go inside to meet him. So I just leave food.” — AFP

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