A 36-year-old Battambang woman charged with “insulting a public official” has denied posting an image on Facebook claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen had died, saying that the image had been posted using her stolen phone.
Provincial court spokesman Touch Sopheakdey said Pang Sina had been charged with insulting a public officer under Article 502 of the Penal Code and would be kept under supervision at her residence.
“We have been questioning her since yesterday [Saturday], and this morning we decided to charge her with insulting a public official,” he said.
An image of Hun Sen surrounded by two funeral wreaths with the message “Hun Sen has died in a plane crash and congratulations on his death” was posted on Sina’s Facebook page on June 5 and June 21.
Sopheakdey said that Sina denied posting the pictures on her Facebook account when she was questioned by provincial military police, and added that she would have to periodically report to the commune police station for the next month.
Kamrieng district military police chief Muy Salith said Sina was called in for questioning on June 24 after authorities found the picture posted on her Facebook page, after which she was handed over to provincial military police officials.
However, Moeun Mann, police chief in the province’s Trang commune, said Sina had filed a notice on May 20 that she had lost her phone.
“Someone has taken her phone and wants to hurt her,” he said. “She has not insulted or cursed [Hun Sen].”
In a similar case in January, 28-year-old Man Sam Orn was charged and later released on bail for allegedly insulting and threatening to kill Hun Sen in a social media post.
While he was not aware of the details in this specific case, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said this was a sensitive issue, given that Hun Sen was not a personal citizen but a publicly elected official, adding that authorites had to take action in the case in order to uphold “the rule of law”.
“Is this a case of freedom of expression? No,” he said. “It is a national security issue.”
He added that the use of social media to claim the death of the premier could be considered freedom of expression in other countries, but that was not the case in Cambodia.
“Even in the US, if someone says Obama is dead, the CIA and FBI will investigate it,” he said. “I plead everyone to stop using freedom of expression [as a reason] to say anything.”
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said that there was no clear definition of what constituted an insult and the benefit of doubt should be given to the accused.
“If [the insult] is very vague or not clear, the judge should rule in favour of the accused, but in reality it is different,” he said.