Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced Facebook user Pheng Vannak to a year in jail, but suspended it to only two months and 15 days for incitement to commit a crime and public defamation, meaning he will be released from jail today after accounting for time served.
Judge Ly Sokleng noted two cases that were filed against Mr Vannak, one by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the other by Fresh News CEO Lim Chea Vutha, after he posted comments on his Facebook page comparing a hit-and-run accident where the suspect’s family paid money to the victim’s family.
Mr Vannak, who was placed in pre-trial detention on April 3, had compared the payment to the murder of slain political analyst Kem Ley and suggested that Mr Hun Sen gave $50,000 to Mr Chea Vutha to give to Mr Ley’s family.
In another post, Mr Vannak criticised Mr Chea Vutha by saying that Fresh News only disseminates stories for money.
“For the first case the court decides to sentence Pheng Vannak, 48, owner of Facebook page Pheng Vannak News, to one year in prison but he will only serve two months and 15 days in jail,” Judge Sokleng said. “The remainder of the sentence is suspended and the court also fines Mr Vannak four million riel [about $1,000] to put into the state coffers and orders him to pay 100 riel [about $0.25] in compensation to Fresh News CEO Lim Chea Vutha.”
“For the second case the court fines him two million riel [about $500] to be put in the state coffers and orders him to pay another 100 riel [$0.25] in compensation to Mr Chea Vutha,” he added.
Mr Vannak declined to comment on the conviction while he was being escorted to an SUV to be sent to prison.
Government lawyer Ky Tech declined to comment yesterday but said over the phone on Sunday that Mr Vannak had confessed that the post about Mr Hun Sen was a mistake.
“Mr Vannak recognised his mistake that was posted on Facebook twice,” he said. “He did not have the intention to accuse [Mr Hun Sen] of killing Kem Ley.”
Mr Tech said the court should jail Mr Vannak, but refrain from imposing a fine.
He also said Fresh News had decided to modify their demand for financial compensation from Mr Vannak over the post.
“Because Mr Vannak confessed and recognised his mistake, I asked [Mr Hun Sen] to not demand compensation from him,” he said. “A lawyer for the Fresh News owner had also asked the court to reduce the compensation from $50,000 to 100 riel.”
Ly Rathy, Mr Chea Vutha’s lawyer, said after the court decision that he agreed with it because Mr Vannak had confessed and recognized his mistake.
He noted that Mr Vannak had also promised during the hearing on June 14 that he will send a letter of apology to his client soon, so Mr Chea Vutha decided to demand only 100 riel in compensation.
“I wish to inform the public that the damage done to Mr Chea Vutha’s reputation is not worth more than 200 riel,” Mr Rathy said.
Mr Vannak is also in hot water over a complaint filed by Khan Sovann, another Facebook user, who said Mr Vannak ridiculed him in a post on March 29.
Mr Sovann said yesterday that he filed a complaint against Mr Vannak, and is demanding $1 million in compensation.
“I am still pursuing my complaint against Mr Vannak,” Mr Sovann said, “I hope the court speeds up hearing the case.”