Activist monk Horn Sophanny, who was arrested and defrocked in June for a Facebook post in which he posed with a toy gun while making controversial political statements, was sentenced to two years in prison for incitement to commit a crime, while illegal weapons possession charges were dropped.
In the post, which was accompanied by a picture of the monk and a toy gun, Sophanny implied that he needed a gun to protect himself from what he called Prime Minister Hun Sen’s upcoming “civil war” during the 2018 elections.
“I do not dare to comment much on this case,” said Choung Choungy, Sophanny’s lawyer. “I will go to meet my client again to discuss with him what we should do next.”
Sophanny was a member of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, an activist group led by But Buntenh, who is currently abroad in America and facing a lawsuit of his own.
Lonh Sokchea, another member of the network, said Sophanny was targeted because of his past activism.
Sokchea said the prosecutor “took the case into the political sphere of 2013”, mentioning in court the monk’s participation in chants for Hun Sen to step down during post-election protests in Stung Meanchey.
Luon Sovath, a prominent activist monk who was charged with incitement in 2014, said Sophanny’s imprisonment was “crazy” and an “injustice”.
“I think that this case is related to the politics problem in Cambodia,” he said.
“They want to threaten all the monks in Cambodia that work for human rights and social justice,” Sovath said, adding that the government is particularly afraid of dissident monks because of the exalted status of the monkhood in Cambodian society.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Chak Sopheap said everyone in the Kingdom, including monks, has a constitutional right to freedom of expression.
“Political speech has a much higher level of protection than other forms of speech, because it is essential to a healthy democracy. Certain political speech can shock and offend, and may even be distasteful to some, but it is still subject to strong human rights protections,” she said via email.
Sopheap went on to criticise the charge of incitement as a “catch-all offense to criminalise and jail human rights defenders in Cambodia, in retaliation for their peaceful activism”.
Court spokesman Tieng Sambor said Sophanny had one month to appeal.