Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday the country's courts will not dismiss cases against several human rights activists accused of defamation, despite his order last week to drop the charges.
Barely a week after ordering the courts to drop charges against the activists, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday it is impossible to stop legal proceedings because the investigations have already begun.
The activists allegedly accused the government of selling land to neighboring Vietnam under a recently signed border treaty.
Mr. Hun Sen's decision last week to stop the lawsuits came after the activists wrote letters of regrets to the prime minister. International human rights groups and several foreign governments, including the United States, had strongly criticized the charges.
On Monday, Mr. Hun Sen said he proposed to the courts that court proceedings be deferred. But he warned that the courts could summon the activists at any time if they are, in his words, "rude".
Ou Virak, spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, whose leaders are among those facing charges, says he hopes Mr. Hun Sen will still honor his promise.
"In Cambodia it's always possible to do many things," he says. "I think regarding defamation as long as the plaintiffs withdraw their suits then the charges can be dropped automatically. With these kind of comments certainly, we are hoping that it's not going back to square one."
Cambodia's justice system is known for being corrupt and lacking independence.
International human rights groups have criticized the Cambodian government for undermining democracy and using defamation - a criminal offense in Cambodia - to silence dissent.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who fled Cambodia last year, was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in jail last month of defaming the prime minister.