A Cambodian political commentator and critic of Hun Sen has been hit with new criminal charges a month after completing a prison sentence for incitement to commit felony and defamation, and has gone into hiding, fearing arrest, sources say.
Kim Sok, 38, was jailed on Feb. 17, 2017, after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of implying that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had orchestrated the 2016 murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley.
Just days before he was gunned down on July 10, 2016, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service after his release on Aug. 17, 2018, Kim Sok said that Hun Sen’s CPP had done nothing to earn a landslide victory in July 29 national elections widely dismissed as unfair following the banning of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in November and arrest of its president, Kem Sokha, two months later.
On Aug. 29, Hun Sen warned Kim Sok that he would be rearrested and thrown back into prison if he fails to pay hefty fines both to him and to the government as part of the sentence he was handed for defamation in August 2017, and demanded that the social commentator stop criticizing how he runs the country.
The court had ordered him to pay 800 million riels (U.S. $200,000) to Hun Sen and 8 million riels (U.S. $2,000) to the state.
On Sept. 14, Judge Leang Samnat of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a warrant ordering police to locate and arrest Kim Sok on accusations of incitement and defamation related to statements he had made last year that were not covered in the original charge.
Kim Sok’s lawyer Choung Choungy could not be reached for comment, and Kim Sok has now gone into hiding to escape unfair handling in Cambodian courts described on Monday by rights group Human Rights Watch as “controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.”
“There is no independence of the judiciary in Cambodia,” deputy Asia director for HRW Phil Robertson told RFA’s Khmer Service by phone on Sept. 17.
“[Kim Sok] has been criminalized in a way that is completely against human rights, because he dared to say what many people are thinking, which was that Prime Minister Hun Sen and parts of the Cambodian People’s Party might be behind the killing of Kem Ley.”
This is something that many people have suspected, Robertson said.
“And the Cambodian government can say whatever it wants about the rule of law, but the reality is that this is rule of power,” he said.
“This is rule of intimidation. This is rule of the strength of a dictatorial government to pursue, convict, and imprison anybody it wants.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.