Following a court hearing on January 28, the Appeal Court on Tuesday extended the prison sentence – from seven months to 10 – of a man who was convicted for violating of the Kingdom’s lese majeste law.
Ban Samphy, 70, a barber and deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Siem Reap province’s Chi Kraeng district, was supposed to be freed on December 20, as his defence lawyer Sam Titseyha had said previously.
However, Samphy’s release was delayed after a deputy prosecutor at Siem Reap Provincial Court filed a complaint to the upper court, seeking heavier punishment for him.
Samphy was arrested and put in pre-trial detention on May 20 after he was ruled to have shared an offensive photograph of the King on social media a week earlier.
The picture depicted Prime Minister Hun Sen, first lady Bun Rany and the King in a car, accompanied by a message deemed to be an insult to the king.
He was sentenced in October to one-year imprisonment, five months of which were suspended.
In the absence of Samphi, Judge Nguon Ratana on Tuesday read the verdict: “The Appeal Court also decided to sentence him with a one-year prison term, two months of which are suspended.”
The latest verdict meant that Samphi would be imprisoned for 10 months since the day of his arrest in May last year.
Titseyha said he will meet with Samphy and his family to discuss whether they would contest the Appeal Court’s decision by forwarding the case the Supreme Court.
“The verdict by Appeal Court seems a bit serious. [Samphy] has confirmed already that he had no intention to insult the King."
“If we examine closely, there is no law related to sharing information on Facebook. And if the court thinks that his action does not seriously affect society, the court should punish him at a level which gives him the opportunity to return to society."
“At the moment, [Samphy] is not well. His limbs are numb and he is old, therefore, he cannot stay behind bars for too long,” Titseyha said.
Samphy’s was the second high profile lese majeste case last year, following the government’s controversial March 2018 amendment to the lese majeste law which criminalised any “word, gesture, writing, picture or other media which affects the dignity of the individual [the King]”.
In May, a 50-year-old principal at Stung Sen district’s Prey Tahou Primary School became the first person to fall foul of the new law. Kheang Navy was arrested for comments he made on Facebook accusing the King of bearing responsibility for the dissolution of the CNRP.
In December, a local police officer said Navy had been “released and begun teaching again”.