A Cambodian court on Friday sentenced a former opposition party member to a year in jail for sharing a Facebook post criticizing the country’s king in the first such case brought to trial after a law went into force this year forbidding insults to the royal family.
Ban Samphy, 70, a former member of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was convicted in a court in Siem Reap province and will have to serve seven months of his sentence, with the remaining time suspended, media sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Am Sam Ath—chief investigator for the Cambodia-based rights group Licadho—noted that Ban Samphy’s sentence is the first handed down by a court under a law recently amended by the country’s parliament.
“This verdict is a message to warn and threaten others that they will be prosecuted if they use any language that may affect the king or other leaders,” he said, adding, “This is a matter of concern for civil society groups.”
In an Oct. 5 statement, Minar Pimple—Senior Director for Global Operations for the rights group Amnesty International—slammed Ban Samphy’s conviction and sentence, saying the former opposition party member was being jailed only “for expressing himself.”
“All he did was click a ‘share’ button for a Facebook post that included nothing but peaceful criticism.”
“This is a brazenly political verdict,” Pimple said. “This legislation must be repealed.”
'Incitement to insult'
Meanwhile, a Cambodian appeals court upheld the jailing last year by a court in Palin province of a former CNRP commune council official for “incitement” to insult and offend.
Chhun Sothy was arrested on Oct. 24, 2017, one day after posting a video in which he defied a call from Prime Minister Hun Sen urging opposition party members to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
He had previously also posted a video on Facebook showing commune officials arguing.
“[Chhun Sothy] should never have been put in jail,” Adhoc rights group official for Battambang province Yin Mengly told RFA, adding that the appeals court should have freed the former commune official and allowed him to return to his family.
“People have the right to criticize public officials,” Yin Mengly said. “If you don’t want to be criticized by the general public, don’t become an official."
“We must make room for constructive criticism and not take legal action against people for expressing themselves in a democratic society,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Vanrith Chrea. Written in English by Richard Finney.