A former CNRP commune councillor in Pailin was sentenced to one year in prison for “incitement” on Friday over videos he posted on Facebook last year.
Judge Ly Meng convicted former Stung Kach Commune Councillor Chhun Sithy of incitement to disturb social security and insulting a public official. The judge also ordered Sithy to pay $1,000 each to two complainants, according to Pailin Provincial Court Prosecutor Thol Kimhuerng.
Kimhuerng refused to answer further questions about the complainants, claiming that he did not remember who they were.
Sithy was arrested in October less than 24 hours after posting a video on Facebook rejecting Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call for Cambodia National Rescue Party officials to defect to the ruling party. At the time, prosecutors said Sithy was being charged over that video.
However, Sithy’s lawyer, Pheng Heng, said the court seemed to conflate the clip with previous videos that Sithy posted on his Facebook showing Cambodian People's Party officials arguing with opposition officials at the local commune hall.
In one of the videos, an outgoing CPP clerk threatens to “slap” a female CNRP commune councillor.
Heng said none of the videos amounted to incitement or insulting a public official.
“He did not have the intention to incite or look down on another person,” Heng said. “He just wanted to express his freedom and improve the characteristics of his staff.”
Chhun Sochea, Sithy’s younger sister, identified the complainants as the CPP clerk and the clerk’s assistant.
“They threatened to beat a CNRP commune councillor and [my brother] used a camera to take a video,” Sochea said. “Then the ones who threatened to beat others did not get accused of a crime, but the one who just took the video was guilty instead.”
“It is unjust for him because he was just keeping his stance strong,” she added. “He did not insult or incite anyone.”
Sithy is one of a string of government critics or opposition officials to face legal challenges in recent months, particularly following the forced dissolution of the CNRP at the government's behest. On Thursday, a judge sentenced a woman who threw a shoe at a CPP billboard to two years in prison for incitement to discriminate and insulting a public official. And in February, a man from Kampong Cham province was arrested on his wedding day for posting a Facebook video calling the government “authoritarian”.
The trial was monitored by the UN Office Of the High Commissioner For Human Rights in Cambodia. OHCHR representative Simon Walker declined to comment on Sithy's sentence but said in general that he "would recall the recent statement by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia" about how freedom of expression, association and assembly "should be protected and developed, not restricted."