Political commentator Kim Sok was sentenced to 18 months in prison yesterday afternoon on charges of incitement and defamation for appearing to suggest that the ruling party was behind the killing of popular analyst Kem Ley.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Ky Rithy said Sok had attempted to malign Prime Minister Hun Sen – who filed the suit – and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and therefore agreed with the charges.
“The court decides to sentence Kim Sok, 36, to 18 months and a fine of 8 million riel [about $2,000] to the state. [It] also orders Kim Sok to pay compensation of 800 million riel [around $200,000] to the CPP, with Samdech Hun Sen as the leader, and represented here by lawyer Ky Tech,” Rithy said.
Sok’s conviction follows similar cases against former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and former opposition Senator Thak Lany, both of whom received similar sentences but much lighter fines.
Sok’s trial, which began on July 26, took a dramatic turn after a request to have the premier testify was rejected, prompting Sok to storm out of the trial chamber then, upon being brought back, theatrically plug his ears before the judge in an act of protest.
The histrionics continued yesterday, with Sok refusing to stand up as the verdict was pronounced, lashing out at the judge and calling the court a “scarecrow court.”
“If I said that, and I have to be in jail, then Hun Sen should also be in Prey Sar like me, because he said he would kill 100 to 200 people,” Sok said, referring to charged remarks the prime minister made in the run-up to this June’s commune elections. “Why isn’t he in prison?”
Choung Choungy, Sok’s lawyer, said he skipped court because his client did not consider the hearing legitimate and would speak to Sok about filing an appeal.
The case stems from a February interview on Radio Free Asia in which Sok seemed to allude to the Cambodian People’s Party’s involvement in the brazen assassination of Kem Ley. “All along they have tried to destroy the CNRP, they have killed people, and the latest person killed was Kem Ley,” he said during the interview.
After the comments were aired, the prime minister, through his lawyer Ky Tech, filed a complaint against Sok seeking half a million dollars in damages.
Days later, Sok attempted to clarify his comments, saying that he had actually meant to imply that a system had developed under the current government in which people were killed and the murderers were never found – a statement the premier took as a doubling down, which prompted a second lawsuit.
Political commentator Cham Bunthet said yesterday the verdict was unacceptable, especially in light of the $200,000 in punitive damages, which he called “ridiculous”.
He added that he had advised Sok to temper his criticisms of the government, but that the prime minister could have chosen to take a more conciliatory approach to the case.
“The prime minister should be like the father and he should treat his children like a father should,” he said. “He has the power to educate and let him learn his lesson.”