The Takeo Provincial Court yesterday ruled to fine an opposition member charged with incitement 3 million riel (about $750) for distributing documents copied from Facebook that allegedly spelled out Vietnamese plans to grab portions of Cambodian territory.
Sam Sokong, the lawyer for Chheang Taing Sorn, the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s executive deputy president in Takeo’s Prey Kabbas district, confirmed yesterday that Taing Sorn was back home and no longer detained, but aired disappointment over the court’s decision to fine his client.
“As a lawyer, I am not yet [ready] to accept [the ruling], because there was no offence committed because Facebook . . . is public,” he said.
Sokong added that the court should have never charged Sorn with incitement as he simply copied the documents, which detail 20 supposed Vietnamese strategies to undermine Cambodia, to read and study. Sorn was arrested last Saturday by Takeo authorities, who accused him distributing the leaflets and disrupting social security.
“Incitement to commit offenses”, laid out in Articles 494 and 495 of the Penal Code, is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 4 million riel.
Takeo Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Phan Sopheak also confirmed that Sorn was freed, though he considered the sentence fair due to the accused being an educator.
“We did not sentence him to jail, we just fined him 3 million riel,” he said. “I agree that Facebook is public, but if he copied it and just read it, it wouldn’t matter, but he continued to distribute [the documents].”
Sorn, however, said after his release yesterday that he, too, disagreed with the court’s decision to fine him, and claimed that he didn’t have the money to pay it.
“I wonder why [the court] fined me like this. I am not wrong – I am worried about my nation,” he said. “I did not distribute. I just copied [them], but people took them from me.”
Soeng Sen Karuna, an investigator for human rights group Adhoc who studied the case, lauded the court for not imprisoning Sorn but also criticised it for levying a fine.
“We welcome [his] release, but we are still unhappy with the 3 million riel fine, because people have the right to express [themselves] about the country,” he said. “Doing things like this affects peoples’ right of expression.”