The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday sentenced a member of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) to 18 months in prison and a 3 million riel fine for organising a press conference last year, which the court said amounted to “incitement”.
The verdict was handed down after a hearing on May 17. Judge So Linna said the press conference was designed to “cause chaos in society”.
“On May 16, 2017, the accused, Thuy Vy, organised a press conference to blame the government and demand that it respect the Paris Peace Accord. The conference was meant to instigate public anger and cause chaos in society.
“The court has decided to sentence Thuy Vy to 18 months in jail, and give him a 3 million riel [around $750] fine on the charge of ‘inciting to commit a felony’ as stipulated in articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code. The accused can file an appeal as allowed under law,” Judge Linna said.
As he left the courtroom, Vy said the verdict was unjust and that he would file an appeal.
Vy, 29, was arrested as he was organising a press conference at a local NGO, the Inter-Racialism High Commissioner.
“The purpose of the press conference was to request that the government release political prisoners, opposition leaders, land activists and human rights defenders. We requested for the establishment of a political party, to pardon Sam Serey [leader of the KNLF], and for the UN be involved in organising the elections in Cambodia,” Vy told the court last Thursday.
He also said that he joined the KNLF in 2016 after his family had lost land in a dispute, which made him want to push for change.
KNLF founder Serey, currently in exile in Denmark, reacted to the sentence on Wednesday by claiming the court was not independent and the verdict followed the orders of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I don’t see any article which states that organising a press conference is illegal. Also, the Inter-Racialism High Commissioner had received permission from the Ministry of Interior to go ahead with it,” Serey said on Wednesday. “So it is unjust for my colleague Thuy Vy to be sentenced just for peacefully expressing his opinion.”
The government has labelled the KNLF a terrorist group. Serey said 18 KNLF members have been jailed so far.
Vy’s defence attorney Vann Chankruesna could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but he said last week that organising a press conference is a citizen’s right under the Constitution.