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Lawyer condemns incitement case

The World Food Programme employee convicted on Sunday of criminal incitement distributed the offending web article to only two of his co-workers, his attorney said yesterday, amid mounting criticism of the “draconian” conviction.

Chou Sokheng, the lawyer for Seng Kunnaka, who works at the WFP’s Russey Keo district warehouse, said his client did not publicly distribute the article.

“He confessed he printed the article to read with his other two co-staffers, but he denied distributing it to the public,” he said.

Seng Kunnaka was sentenced to 6 months jail and fined 1 million riel (US$250) under Article 495 of the new penal code, which came into effect December 10.

The content of the article Seng Kunnaka printed is still unclear. While Chou Sokheng said it contained pictures of government officials, he declined to provide further details. Article 495 outlaws public speech that directly incites actions “seriously” affecting social security, and carries a prison sentence of between six months and two years, even in cases in which incitement is ineffective.

Kor Vandy, the presiding judge, declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to Deputy Prosecutor Chet Khemara, who was unavailable.

But bloggers at the news blog KI-Media, from which Seng Kunnaka is thought to have printed the article, said yesterday they believed he may have printed an article posted on December 17, the same day he was arrested. The article, titled as an opinion piece, shows headshots of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials with the word “traitors?” written along the side in various languages.

“That’s why the judge refused to talk about it, because then he would be forced to repeat the question we posted,” KI-Media’s administrator Heng Soy said in an email.

Human Rights Watch yesterday expressed deep concern about the conviction of Seng Kunnaka, whose case “probably set an all-new world record for speedy proceedings by the Cambodian courts”, and called on Cambodia’s donors to “wake up”.

“It’s shocking that we now see even a warehouse employee at a UN agency with a print-out of materials from a website can incur the wrath of this increasingly authoritarian Cambodian government,” HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said yesterday.

WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre DeMargerie said the agency was “still trying to clarify” the facts of the case.

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