Freed Cambodian human rights activist on a conflicting life after prison

By: Colin Meyn - Posted on: August 4, 2017 | Cambodia

Released on bail after more than a year behind bars, ‘Adhoc 5’ activist Nay Vanda calls for a new wave of young activists to lead the charge for change

Nay Vanda speaks at Adhoc’s office in Phnom Penh last month. Photo: Luke Ding for SEA Globe
This article was published in the August​ edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here

Nay Vanda was among five former or current staff members of rights group Adhoc who spent 427 days in prison as suspects in a corruption case involving opposition leader Kem Sokha, which was widely believed to be politically motivated. After months of international calls for their release, the five were unexpectedly freed on June 29. Vanda, who had been one of the country’s most outspoken human rights advocates, spoke with Southeast Asia Globe about how the experience changed him.

Has this experience made you reconsider your work?

I think I have sacrificed enough. I have sacrificed my own happiness, my family’s happiness, my enjoyment, for the protection of human rights in Cambodia. So why can’t other people do it? And I dare go to prison to show people we cannot run away from injustice. We cannot run away. We need to show the government we are not afraid of prison.

Why do you think you were released?

There are many reasons, but one reason is because we are very sick. And they can have a problem – I say that when one of us is ill and dies in prison it’s like the time bomb explodes. Another reason is since they arrested us and put us in jail, their popularity is going down and down and down and down.

You were released on bail and there may be a trial at some point. Are you scared of losing your freedom again?

I have a fear illness. I fear going back to the prison. I fear losing my family. I fear losing friends, or some friends being arrested and put in jail. But I also see something white, I can say. The situation, my situation, our situation, becomes better than before. So after the prison we feel better. But to be back or not is our decision. We helped victims, we helped society, we helped the country, we helped the people, so why not help our families? Our families have suffered enough. 

How do you reconcile being scared of returning to prison and telling people not to be scared of going to prison?

I know it’s a contrasted idea, it’s a conflicted idea, but as I have already told to you – this is our society. Cambodia is our country, so everybody needs to take turns to sacrifice. Everybody needs to take turns to share burden. So they must be courageous to take responsibility. If they want the country to ever experience positive change, if they want the country to ever experience real or full rule of law, full democracy, full human rights respect, full good governance, everybody needs to take turns.