The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has charged a Cambodian man, Ny Nak, 41, and placed him in pre-trial detention for public insult and incitement to discrimination under articles 307, 494 and 496 of the Criminal Code.
According to an order signed by Investigating Judge Hong Sokun Vathana on December 12, Ny Nak, who sells sausages online, is a native of Tapon commune in Battambang province’s Sangke district. Prior to the arrest, he resided at a rented house in Boeung Tompun I commune, in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
He was charged for “public insult” and “incitement to discrimination” after his Facebook post under the name IMan-KH was alleged to have indirectly insulted Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The Facebook post allegedly made a mockery of the government’s distribution of face masks and Hun Sen’s preparation of a letter to the King regarding a possible declaration of a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 community outbreak.
A state of emergency, which temporarily restricts certain rights and freedoms, is a measure that can be legally deployed by the government if it is deemed necessary as part of measures to contain the pandemic in the country.
Nak’s Facebook post read: “I have already prepared a letter and documents to request the placement of my chicken coop in a state of emergency. The reason is that the flu virus is spreading on the farm. I didn’t want [the situation] to reach this point, because it is seriously damaging to the economy of the chickens.
“I hope that all chickens will wear a mask and stay in the coop without going out, if it is not necessary.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay called on the municipal court to release Nak, saying Nak’s Facebook post was apparently intended to be a joke.
He said the legal interpretation and the charges of public insults and incitement to discrimination against Nak was not in line with the strict lenity of the criminal case as stated in Article 5 of the Criminal Code.
“In criminal cases, the law must be interpreted strictly. Judges cannot extend the scope of practice or act following the context [of consistency or similarity].
“In a liberal and multi-party democracy that guarantees human rights and respects the law, Ny Nak’s act would not be regarded as a criminal offence. The Cambodian Criminal Code also does not consider this comedy to be a criminal offence,” he said.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the court had a legal basis to charge Nak with public insult and incitement to discrimination.
“As for whether the accusation is excessive or not, by the matter of principle, it is based on the action of the accused. [It depends on if there are] elements of a crime,” he said.
“The authorities and the prosecutor have a strong and clear basis to ascertain that the action has the elements of a crime and apply charges according to the articles [in the Criminal Code].”
According to the Criminal Code, incitement to discrimination is punishable by imprisonment from one to three years and a fine from two million to six million riel ($500 to $1,500). Public insult is punishable by a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million riel.