A court in Cambodia has charged the second person in one week for allegedly threatening the life of Prime Minister Hun Sen on the head of state’s Facebook page, drawing concern from a rights group that suggested the post may have been faked to frighten online critics.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Rom Chamroeurn, 28, with making a “death threat” under Article 233 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, court spokesperson Ly Sophanna told reporters Thursday, adding that his case had been sent to an investigating judge.
“The person posted a message on Facebook threatening to kill Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” he said, using an honorific title for the prime minister.
According to screenshots published by government-aligned media group Fresh News, Rom Chamroeurn posted a photo of himself posing with a pistol alongside text that said, “Hun Sen, somehow I will kill you” and claiming that Cambodia would not have peace until the strongman was dead.
Rom Chamroeurn allegedly claimed that Hun Sen and his family are ethnic yuon, using a term for Vietnamese in Cambodia which some consider derogatory, and suggested that he had an affair with the prime minister’s wife, Bun Rany.
The case is the latest in a series of court actions pertaining to supposed threats against government officials and comes just one week after police in Sihanoukville detained a young man named Pich Ratha, also for allegedly threatening to kill Hun Sen in a comment posted to the prime minister’s Facebook page.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service Friday, Am Sam Ath, head of investigations for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said he was concerned that some Facebook accounts may have been faked as part of a bid to frame the accused and to discourage online criticism.
“We are concerned that the Facebook accounts might have been fabricated or hacked to cause the victims harm,” he said.
“Recent arrests [in connection to the alleged threats] have sent a chilling message to other Facebook users.”
Am Sam Ath urged authorities to undertake a “thorough investigation” into online threats before making any arrests to ensure that the accounts are not phony.
He also warned against the use of the judicial system to restrict freedom of speech.
Other civil society groups have also accused the authorities of practicing a double standard by arresting those who have allegedly threatened members of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), when several people who have made death threats against members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) remain at large.
In addition to Rom Chamroeurn and Pich Ratha, three other people have been charged or detained in connection with comments they allegedly made linking Hun Sen to the murder of prominent political analyst and scholar Kem Ley.
Last week, Cambodian police arrested Heng Leakhena for a video she posted on Facebook suggesting that Hun Sen and his family had a hand in the gunning down of Kem Ley a year ago when he stopped for coffee in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the capital Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen has sued three others for defamation—Sam Rainsy, former head of the CNRP, opposition Senator Thak Lany, and jailed political commentator Kem Sok—over accusations that the CPP planned Kem Ley’s murder.
Sam Rainsy and Thak Lany are both in exile, and Kim Sok is in jail awaiting trial.
Former soldier Oeuth Ang—who calls himself Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—confessed to shooting Kem Ley over a U.S. $3,000 debt. Though he was sentenced to life in prison in March for the crime, it is widely believed that others were involved in the slaying and that Oeuth Ang had had no contact at all with the political analyst prior to the killing.
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.