A primary school teacher in Kampong Thom province was charged yesterday by the provincial court for allegedly violating the recently passed lèse majesté amendment and placed in pretrial detention, becoming the first to be charged by the controversial law.
Say Nora, spokesman for the Kampong Thom Provincial Court, confirmed the arrest, adding that the suspect, Kheang Navy, 50, the principal at Ta Hou Primary School in Stung Sen district, was charged with “insulting the King” in violation of Article 437 of the amended Criminal Code.
Police arrested Navy on Saturday, hours after he posted a comment on a Facebook post written by a government official in Kampong Thom who attended a celebration of King Norodom Sihamoni’s birthday in the province. In his comment, Navy blamed the King and the Cambodian royal family for last year’s dissolution of CNRP as well as the “loss of Khmer land”.
Nhem Chunly, Stung Sen district police chief, told The Post yesterday that he summoned Navy to the police station for questioning and to take legal action against him.
“He [Navy] wrote the comment in the morning of May 12, and we arrested him at 5 pm,” Chunly said. “He insulted the King in his comment, and he fully admitted his fault.”
Yen Saren, the deputy police chief in Kampong Thom province, said Navy was sent to the provincial court on Sunday afternoon for further action.
“He said it was his own will that made him write that comment, and no one asked him to do it,” Saren said.
This marked the first arrest since the amended article went into effect on March 5. The lèse majesté clause added to the Criminal Code defines an insult as any “word, gesture, writing, picture or other media which affects the dignity of the individual”, and specifically only applies to the King. According to Article 437, Navy could face one to five years in prison and a fine up to 10 million riel (about $2,500).
Ministry of Interior spokesperson Kieu Sopheak said the insult of the King would bring consequences, however it was done.
“No matter if it is Facebook or whatever, we will impose legal actions because it was an offence according the Constitution,” Sopheak said.
During the amendment’s debate, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights found the development worrying. Noting that a similar law has been abused elsewhere, especially in Thailand, APHR Chairman Charles Santiago said there was “serious potential for its abuse in Cambodia”, adding that the lèse majesté law would likely serve as “yet another addition to the government’s arsenal of legal tools” with which it attacks political opponents.