Jailed For Facebook Posts

May Titthara / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Um Sam An was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. KT/Chor Sokunthea

A member of the opposition was sentenced to two and half years in jail yesterday over comments and posts he made on Facebook.
 
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced Um Sam An to two years and six months after finding him guilty of incitement and discrimination under articles 495 and 496 of the Criminal Code.
 
The firebrand member of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on April 11 after traveling abroad for a number of months. His arrest and trial relate to a series of comments and Facebook posts he made this year and last year about the government’s handling of border demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam.  
 
Mr. Sam An claimed the government was intentionally using the wrong maps to demarcate the border in a covert effort to cede land to Vietnam, a charge the government has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
 
The CNRP has called Mr. Sam An’s trial a farce, claiming his parliamentary immunity was being ignored.
 
The government says it was allowed to arrest and prosecute Mr. Sam An under an obscure rule – often used to ensnare opposition members – which allows police to circumvent parliamentary immunity and arrest MPs if they are “caught in the act.”
 
Despite months passing between the time of his Facebook posts and his arrest, the government claims their use of the law was correct because the post was still on Mr. Sam An’s Facebook page.
 
Mr. Sam An and his lawyers walked out of the one-day trial and his sentence was delivered to him in absentia. In addition to his sentence, he has been slapped with a four million riel fine.
 
Judge Heng Sokna said the court found that Mr. Sam An intentionally created “chaos” and incited racial discrimination through his Facebook posts and statements in the press about the Vietnamese border and a treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam.
 
Mr. Sam An and his lawyers have one month to file an appeal.
 
The member for Siem Reap and dual US citizen said he did not talk during what he called the “illegal” trial because he is an elected politician with parliamentary immunity.
 
“I requested not to answer and I would like to go back to prison,” he said.
 
Choung Chou Ngy, Mr. Sam An’s defense lawyer, said the decision was wrong and his presence in the court alone was why all of the lawyers decided not to participate in the case from the beginning.
 
“This decision has violated the procedures since the beginning, as he has parliamentary immunity. I’m going to meet my client to discuss our appeal against this decision,” Mr. Chou Ngy said.
 
At Mr. Sam An’s court date in September, Mr. Chou Ngy had harsh words for the proceedings and said it was clear from the way the case was organized that it was politically motivated.
 
“First, Mr. Um Sam An has parliamentary immunity. Second, the complaint of annulment proceedings is still at the Supreme Court, and third, posting a video about the border issue is not an offense,” he said.
 
Mr. Sam An’s case is one of the many that government critics point to when they question whether the country’s judiciary is being used to persecute those with opposing views.
 
Prime Minister Hun Sen, under withering criticism from the United Nations and many foreign governments for his perceived prosecution of political opponents, refused to back down and release him, saying the government had a right to arrest Mr. Sam An because he was “inciting conflict” with neighboring countries through his comments and Facebook posts.
 
The sentence given to Mr. Sam An is another in a long series of arrests and charges levied against opposition party members and civil society workers.
 
CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha was given a five-month sentence last month for failing to appear in court for questioning and party leader Sam Rainsy is facing a litany of defamation charges, all coming from senior government figures.
 
Opposition senator Hong Sok Hour has been imprisoned since last August for commenting on the border situation and posting a video on Facebook showing a fake treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam involving the dissolution of the border between the two countries.
 
Mr. Hun Sen publicly called for Mr. Sok Hour’s arrest and since then, the Supreme Court has repeatedly denied him bail, claiming his freedom would cause “instability.”
 
Mr. Rainsy is also being charged in the case as he shared the video on his Facebook page. Both face sentences of up to 17 years if convicted.

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