The trial of four defendants, including Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was heard at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.
Three were charged with “instigating incitement and insult” and a fourth with “insult and incitement” under Articles 494 and 502 of the Criminal Code.
The charges stemmed from activities carried out between April and October last year.
Rainsy, Ho Vann, an ex-CNRP lawmaker, and Kak Komphear, a former party member, were charged “instigating incitement and insult”.
Only Kong Mas, a CNRP activist from Svay Rieng province who was charged with incitement and insulting the prime minister was present at the hearing.
Mas, who was arrested in January, appeared in court with his lawyer Sam Sokong.
Judge Pich Vicheathor in outlining the case presented what Mas had allegedly written on Facebook between April and October last year.
He said Mas had posted a large number of messages on the social media platform that contained insults and incitement to cause disorder.
Mas had created five Facebook accounts intending to post messages that insulted the leader of the government, he said.
“You called Prime Minister Hun Sen the destroyer of Cambodia’s forests; you appealed to people to rise against the government; you planned to print 100,000 leaflets calling on voters to boycott last year’s national elections on July 29; you said Hun Sen was a puppet who had contributed to the destruction of democracy in Cambodia,” Judge Vicheathor said.
“What did you intend when you called on Cambodian people to rise up and seek change?” he asked Mas.
“I wanted people to change the government through elections, not through a coup or by violent means,” Mas replied.
Mas said he fled to Thailand after the CNRP was dissolved on November 16, 2017, because he feared for his safety.
He said he had requested refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand but was rejected.
Prosecutor Seng Heang accused Rainsy of ordering Mas to print 100,000 leaflets calling on people to abstain from voting in last year’s election.
He said Mas prepared the content of the leaflets and then made a budget request to Rainsy through Vann, the former lawmaker.
Komphear’s involvement in the case came from allegedly ordering Mas to edit audio recordings of former social media celebrity Thy Sovantha, a former CNRP supporter who later joined the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Mas replied by saying that after the CNRP was dissolved in November 2017, he had acted on his own.
“I prepared the leaflets myself without being told to do so. I planned to distribute them to make the government think again regarding the dissolution of the CNRP.
“I took the message on the leaflet from the Facebook page of president Sam Rainsy, which said: ‘Don’t go to vote on July 29, 2018, ’” Mas said, adding that he had never personally attacked the prime minister.
Prosecutor Seng Heang requested that the judge sentence the four according to the law.
However, Sokong argued that what his client had written should not be seen as insults but rather as criticism, something a citizen of a democratic society is allowed to do.
“I see his messages as criticism, but some of his words could be wrongly interpreted, such as ‘change’. What he meant was change through elections. The content of the messages did not carry any meaning to incite,” Sokong said, and requested the judge to drop the charges against his client.
For his final say, Mas repeated his lawyer’s request and said he had criticised the government on what he saw as negative points.
According to the Criminal Code, “incitement to commit offences” carries a sentence of between six months and two years in prison if found guilty. “insult” carries a jail term of between one and six days.
Judge Vicheathor said the verdict would be announced on October 18.