Opposition activists arrested in Phnom Penh after online comments about king

The comments on Facebook seemed to compare Prime Minister Hun Sen with King Norodom Sihamoni.
By RFA Khmer
2023.03.21
Opposition activists arrested in Phnom Penh after online comments about king Cambodian authorities arrested Yim Sinorn [left] and Hun Kosal, Facebook commentators who made social media posts critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Credit: Yim Sinorn [left] and Hun Kosal Facebook pages

Police on Tuesday arrested two opposition activists who are close to opposition party leader Kem Sokha after they posted unfavorable comments on Facebook about how the government has treated Cambodia’s constitutional monarch.

“According to the people at the coffee shop, today we clearly know who is truly the King,” Yim Sinorn wrote.

The second activist, Hun Kosal, later wrote that it has been sad “to see they have hurt the King’s heart and degraded the King’s power in all aspects,” a reference to how Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has interacted with King Norodom Sihamoni, who took the throne in 2004.

“As a politician of the new generation, I am determined to use all my ability to join forces with Kem Sokha to protect the power and the throne of the King,” Hun Kosal wrote.

Yim Sinorn’s messages seemed to draw a comparison between the king and Hun Sen, which drew a lot of attention from online commentators with diverse opinions. Later, he deleted his original message and posted another comment.

“I merely posted the voice of the people speaking at a coffee shop,” he wrote. “But many people brought up such comparisons. Therefore, to avoid misunderstanding, I have deleted all the messages.”     

Hun Sen posts comments on Facebook

Phnom Penh authorities arrested the two men shortly afterward, according to the pro-government Fresh News. They were still being held at Phnom Penh police headquarters Tuesday evening.

Hun Sen was seen exchanging comments with his supporters on Yim Sinorn’s Facebook page, suggesting that the two men were already guilty. 

“It would be weird if they are not guilty because [what they said] is not an expression of opinion, but it is a distortion of the truth with an intent,” he wrote. “Whatever it is, leave it for the court to decide.”

Ros Sotha, the executive director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 22 local NGOs, disagreed with the prime minister in comments made to Radio Free Asia on Tuesday. What the two men said were just expressions of opinion and shouldn’t be criminalized, he told RFA.

Protest in South Korea in 2019

Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party have been working to silence and intimidate opposition figures ahead of the July general elections. 

Earlier this month, Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason. He continues to deny the charges that led to his arrest in September 2017, which was made several months after the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which he led, had made large gains in local commune elections.

The CNRP has been banned in Cambodia since 2017 but later regrouped and has been active outside the country. 

Yim Sinorn was, for a time, the head of CNRP’s youth movement in South Korea, where nearly 50,000 Cambodians work – mostly as factory workers. In April 2019, he helped sponsor a demonstration of workers against the Hun Sen government in Gwangju.   

In November 2019, he and nine colleagues were charged in Phnom Penh Municipal Court with conspiracy and inciting serious social unrest in Cambodia and elsewhere. But in September 2021, he wrote a letter to Hun Sen saying the charges against him were unfair and that he never supported opposition figure Sam Rainsy.

Hun Sen was apparently satisfied with the letter and told the court to drop all charges against Yim Sinorn and the other nine defendants. Yim Sinorn returned to Cambodia in January 2022.    

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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