Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday tried a former monk who allegedly aired fake news about disputes among government leaders on his YouTube channel “Daily Hot News” to attract more hits and gain revenue from Google.
Judge Picch Vicheathor identified the former monk as 24-year-old Voeun Kimlon who lived in Pursat province’s Krakor district.
Judge Vicheathor said Mr Kimlon was charged with incitement to commit a felony, which could see him in prison for up to two years and fined up to $1,000 if convicted.
He said Mr Kimlon was arrested on March 26 in Banteay Meanchey province by police officers from the Interior Ministry’s anti-cybercrime department before he was questioned at the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh.
Deputy court prosecutor Seng Heang said Mr Kimlon started airing fake news about disputes between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng in 2017, and it continued after the suspect launched his YouTube channel in 2018.
Mr Heang said Mr Kimlon also aired fake news about journalists and villagers killed by soldiers and Mr Hun Sen ordering the armed forces to use tanks to charge at Sam Rainsy and his supporters.
“He posted fake news about disputes between our country’s leaders on his YouTube channel,” Mr Heang said. “The fake news he aired caused turmoil, instability and insecurity in the country – the fake news he aired also affected peace and public order in the country.”
“Based on the evidence that was seized by the Interior Ministry’s anti-cybercrime police department and the confession of the suspect, in the name of the prosecutor, I have decided to uphold the charges and ask the judge to punish him in accordance with the law,” he added.
Mr Kimlon during the hearing yesterday said he committed the offence, but noted that he did not know it was a crime.
He said he was an impoverished monk with seven siblings to support. He decided to launch the channel in 2017 after learning how to edit photos, post on Twitter and write on blog sites from his friends who told him that income could be earned from Google, YouTube’s parent company.
He said when he first started, he was able to earn $50 per month from Google. However, as viewership increased, he was able to earn up to $2,000 per month.
Mr Kimlon noted that between 2017 and the day of his arrest, he had received more than $20,000 from Google. The money went to his wedding and family expenditures.
“I posted the fake news on my YouTube channel ‘Daily Hot News’ because I wanted to attract more hits and get more revenue from Google Inc.,” Mr Kimlon added. “I needed to make money to support my impoverished family, I did not know my uploads violated the law.”
He then apologised to Mr Hun Sen and called on the Prime Minister to forgive him.
“I have acknowledged my mistake. I would like to pay my deep respects to Prime Minister Hun Sen and ask him to pardon me and forgive my mistake,” Mr Kimlon said. “I promise I will no longer repeat this. I would like to ask the court to reduce my sentence and suspend the rest.”
Chrea Chhunleng, Mr Kimlon’s lawyer, yesterday said his client was a former monk, not a politician.
“In this case, my client’s intention was to attract more hits and gain more revenue from Google to get money to support his impoverished family,” he said.
“Though my client confessed to his mistake, he did not have the intention to go against the Royal Government nor cause turmoil, instability and insecurity in the country, as alleged by the police and the court,” Mr Chhunleng added.
A verdict is due October 18.