A 27-year-old man has been sentenced to two years in prison for Facebook posts that threatened Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to news reports.
Ven Sopheap, a resident of eastern Prey Veng province, admitted during his trial last week to posting threats against Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, according to foreign news agency and local press reports.
Judge Ly Sok Leng read the verdict on Friday morning, saying Ven Sopheap was convicted on a charge of making a death threat and incitement to discriminate.
Ven Sopheap confessed to making the post. He was charged in October after reportedly posting a minute-long video with an effigy, believed to be depicting the prime minister, next to burning incense as an unseen voice is heard saying that today would be the premier’s last day, the Khmer Times reported.
According to AFP, he reportedly wrote: "Hun Sen, today is the day of your death" and "Beheading Yuons [a derogatory term for Vietnamese people] is the duty of all Khmer children.”
Human Rights groups criticized the verdict as the latest attempt by the Cambodian government to smother free speech as Hun Sen clamps down on critics ahead of this year’s commune elections and national elections scheduled for 2018.
"Flippant social media posts or throwaway comments, without any real intention to follow through, should be handled with a common-sense approach and treated with leniency," Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told AFP.
Prison sentences for social media posts have become increasingly common in Cambodia as the Hun Sen-dominated government attempts to muzzle dissent.
Who ‘likes’ Hun Sen
Long-time opposition leader Sam Rainsy ran afoul of the government last year after he accused Hun Sen’s media team of buying “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase the appearance of support for the prime minister.
Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service during a live interview in November that it is Hun Sen who “should be liable for compensating the Cambodian people for all his lies and purchasing ‘likes’ for his Facebook [page].”
“American companies and Facebook can confirm that Hun Sen’s Facebook is full of fake ‘likes,’” he said. “He is again a coward for fabricating his popularity and asking his petty people to sue me in his stead.”
He went on to say that it was “hilarious” that Hun Sen’s Facebook page, which is available only in the Khmer language, had received almost a million likes from people in foreign countries such as India, where Khmer is not spoken.
“How could about a million Indians know and support Hun Sen when they don’t even speak the language on his Facebook posts?” asked Sam Rainsy “So, the bottom line is millions of his likes have been purchased.”
Reporters at The Phnom Penh Post recently analyzed the countries of origin for “likes” on Hun Sen’s Facebook page after he had surpassed 3 million fans and found that only 20 percent of them originated in Cambodia.
According to a study on world leaders' Facebook presence by the consulting firm Burson-Marsteller that was released on Tuesday, Hun Sen’s Facebook posts have garnered 58 million interactions, placing him second on the company’s list of world leaders in the sum total of likes, comments, and shares.
Cambodia has a population of about 15.7 million people, while India has a population of 1.3 billion people.