The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia has recommended that the government decriminalise defamation in the wake of a woman being handed a two-year prison sentence for throwing her shoe at a CPP billboard.
The recommendation was made after the Kampong Speu Provincial Court on Thursday confirmed the conviction of Sam Sokha, who on January 25 was convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison by Judge Ouk Retkhunthea.
She was also fined about $1,250 for insulting a public official and for incitement to discriminate.
Ms Sokha threw her shoe at the CPP billboard in April 2017 and was extradited from Thailand last month.
Sorn Virak, spokesman for the provincial court, declined to comment yesterday, but Sam Sak, chief of the penal police bureau, confirmed that the court decided to uphold her conviction and that she is now being detained in prison.
In a Facebook post on Friday, OHCHR Cambodia said it regretted the fact that Thailand had deported Ms Sokha given the concerns for her rights.
“The UN human rights system places particularly high value on uninhibited expression concerning public figures in the public domain and also public institutions, and recommends that Cambodia ‘consider decriminalizing defamation and bring other provisions of the Criminal Code into line with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (freedom of expression),’” it said in the post.
Ms Sokha was accused of inciting discrimination against and insulting Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
She was accused of the crime after a video of her throwing a shoe at a CPP sign in Preah Sihanouk province in April surfaced online.
The 13-second video posted on social media shows her throwing a shoe at the sign of Mr Samrin and Mr Hun Sen while chanting: “They came here to destroy the nation”.
Kim Santepheap, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, dismissed the recommendation by the UN agency.
“I think there is no country that can guarantee absolute freedom of expression because freedom of expression is guaranteed by the law under the scope that it does not infringe on other people’s rights,” he said. “I think the UN should not make such a recommendation because people that respect the law have no reason to fear being accused of defamation.”
“Freedom of expression outside the framework of the law becomes an offence,” Mr Santepheap added.