Political analyst Kim Sok was charged, arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on Friday afternoon after showing up for questioning at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, according to court spokesman Ly Sophana.
Sok faces a pair of defamation and incitement cases filed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The first came after statements the premier alleges suggest the ruling Cambodian People Party’s involvement in the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley.
The second, ironically, came after Sok went on Radio Free Asia to explain his original statement. His explanation, that he was speaking about a government-controlled “system” that allowed murders to happen with impunity, resulted in defamation case number two.
After several hours of questioning on Friday by prosecutor Sieng Sok and investigating judge Ros Piseth, was sent to Prey Sar prison, detained on charges of public defamation and incitement under articles 305, 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, according to Sophana.
The prime minister is seeking just over $500,000 in compensation for the two complaints. The incitement charges carry a prison sentence of up to two years.
Sam Zarifi, Asia director for the International Commission of Jurists, yesterday condemned the analyst’s arrest, saying that pre-trial detention was unwarranted.
Zarifi also argued that Sok’s summonsing just hours after the prime minister had filed the complaint, followed by his speedy arrest, seemed to suggest the case was politically motivated, adding that Cambodia’s judiciary was “under immense political pressure”.
Further, the demand for $500,000 in damages was excessive, he said, adding that Sok’s statements were not designed to lead to violence, a requirement for incitement charges under international law.
He said there was a trend in Cambodia to misuse defamation cases to silence critics. “I think this is a restrictive environment for elections, even more so than the last elections,” he said.
Active in politics with the Norodom Ranariddh Party, then later the Khmer Front Party and Funcinpec, Sok spent 2011-15 in China pursuing a master’s degree in finance.
He emerged as an analyst in the wake of Ley’s murder, and began accepting invitations to speak on radio talk shows.
Voice of Democracy director Nop Vy said they used Sok as a commentator for his “good analysis of politics and society”.