A 70-year-old barber in Siem Reap province became the second person to be charged for violating the Kingdom’s new lèse majesté law, after he shared a post on Facebook that was allegedly insulting to King Norodom Sihamoni. This is the second case in two weeks, following the arrest of a primary school principal in Kampong Thom.
According to Sok Sotheavuth, Chikreng district police chief, Siem Reap police arrested Ban Samphy, 70, in Kampong Kdey commune, in Siem Reap’s Chikreng district, on Saturday for sharing a Facebook post deemed insulting to the King.
Sotheavuth said Samphy shared a post from a Facebook account belonging to “Khmer Thatcher” on May 13. Police took note of the post a few days later, and finally caught up to Samphy on May 19. Sotheavuth said he brought the suspect to the police station and questioned him.
“He confessed that he shared that post. The picture he shared was for his group to see. He said he was angry with the King . . .But he confessed that he was wrong to share the post. But he said [he did so] because he was angry,” the district police chief said.
According to the shared post on Samphy’s account, a user named Khmer Thatcher on May 13 posted a picture of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, first lady Bun Rany, and a picture of King Sihamoni in a car, along with a video clip of villagers affected by flooding who were angry authorities had restricted their movements. Included was the alleged insult, which consisted of comparing King Sihamoni unfavourably to Cambodia’s former kings.
According to the court document issued by Nguon Nara, an investigative judge for the Siem Reap Provincial Court, Samphy was charged with the amended Article 437 of the Criminal Code for “insulting the King”. Nara ordered the police to bring Samphy to pretrial detention.
Article 437 says that “the use of words, gestures, writings, sketches or objects which undermine the dignity of a person constitutes an insult. Insulting the King is liable to one year to five years in jail and a fine of 2 million [$500] to 10 million riel”.
Chin Malin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said someone sharing social media posts, if done with “ill intentions”, is just as liable for punishment as the person creating the post in the first place.
“It is a crime if it was ill intended, meaning that if he knew sharing that information would affect the rights of other individuals or public order but shared it anyway, he would be guilty,” Malin said. “But if he just shared it without the above mentioned purpose then it would not be a crime.”
Yim Sary, a lawyer and spokesperson for the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said ignorance of the law is no defence and that it wasn’t the Bar’s responsibility to inform the public.
“If they want to insult anyone, they have to do research to find out if there is a law on this. They must do the research themselves,” Sary said.
Sok Sam Oeun, a legal expert familiar with the allegedly insulting Facebook post, said that the alleged insult in question along with the King’s picture was probably enough evidence to convict Samphy. However, because the law only went into effect in early March, the government should explain the law to the people,” Sam Oeun said.
“In this case, I believe the court should hand down a light sentence as a warning. But it is no excuse for the insult in the first place. I just think the government did a poor job of disseminating information on the law," Sam Oeun said. “And the court, even though there is no cybercrimes law yet, should let it be known that if you use Facebook to share another person’s post, it effectively means you posted it yourself. People need to know this, otherwise people may think they are just innocently sharing someone else’s opinion and not know they may be breaking the law.”