Phnom Penh Municipal Court upheld its verdict against Khmer Civilisation Foundation (KCF) chairman Moeung Sonn on Tuesday, ordering the absent defendant to serve two years in jail and pay a fine of 15 million riels (US$3,598).
In a retrial of a case originally decided on July 14, deputy prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot and government lawyer Pal Chandara argued that Moeung Sonn, currently living in France to avoid imprisonment, was guilty of disinformation for comments he made at a press conference in May that a light installation at Angkor Wat would damage the 11th-century temple. The KCF chairman subsequently appealed the decision.
“The accused has filed a complaint contesting the original verdict, but he does not have the confidence to show up here today, so I would like the court to uphold its decision,” Ek Chheng Huot said.
Sam Sokong, Moeung Sonn’s lawyer, told the court that his client had not engaged in disinformation, but had merely voiced valid concerns also aired elsewhere.
“He just said that the company [that installed the lights] did not perform its work properly. My client’s comments were not disinformation, and he had no intention to degrade the government’s reputation,” Sam Sokong said.
Sam Sokong added that he planned to lodge an appeal on Moeung Sonn’s behalf, and that Moeung Sonn would write new letters of apology to the government in hopes of securing an acquittal. Moeung Sonn had previously written a letter of apology to deputy Prime Minister Sok An, head of the Apsara Authority.
Pal Chandara said that Moeung Sonn’s comments were tantamount to incitement and defended the need for government action in the case.
“Moeung Sonn is not the only one who loves Angkor. We all love Angkor together,” Pal Chandara said. “Moeung Sonn’s allegations caused a strong reaction from the people, so if the government had not intervened on time, unrest would have occurred.”
Judge Chhay Kong said the hearing had done little to change his opinion from July’s decision, and reaffirmed the original prison term and fine levied in the case.
Speaking by phone from France, Moeung Sonn said there was no chance for him to receive a fair trial because he could not attend the hearing without fear of being arrested upon arrival in Cambodia.
“I did not attend because I was afraid of being arrested, but I do not have the intention to harm the government’s reputation,” he said.