Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Former Opposition Activists Arrested for Facebook Posts Insulting the King

Yim Sinorn in front of the Phnom Penh municipal court on the day of Kem Sokha’s verdict on March 3, 2023. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)
Yim Sinorn in front of the Phnom Penh municipal court on the day of Kem Sokha’s verdict on March 3, 2023. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

Two former opposition activists were arrested Tuesday and charged with incitement and insulting the King for Facebook posts commenting on the relationship between King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Activists Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal appeared to imply in their posts that the Prime Minister had more power than the King, with Sinorn appearing to state that the Prime Minister had supplanted the King. 

Phnom Penh Police Chief Sar Theth confirmed that police had detained Sinorn and Kosal and sent them to court on Wednesday. The court had placed the two activists in pretrial detention at Prey Sar prison, according to a warrant signed on Wednesday by Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Yi Sokvuoch.

Sinorn is a former CNRP Youth Leader in South Korea, where thousands of Cambodians work as migrant laborers. Both Sinorn and Kosal are vocal supporters of opposition figure Kem Sokha, who was sentenced to 27 years of home confinement on March 3. In one post prior to his arrest, Kosal said he wished for Sokha to rule Cambodia.

Hours after their posts about the King, Kosal and Sinorn were arrested. While Sinorn had already deleted one of his posts, the Prime Minister had captured it and published a screenshot on Facebook.

“No need to delete, nephew,” Hun Sen wrote in a Facebook comment.

The same day the activists made their posts, Hun Sen had published photos on Facebook of a ceremony related to the Cambodia-hosted Southeast Asia Games, where he appeared with the King. 

Hun Sen questioned whether the two activists were commenting in their posts about the placement of an umbrella, traditionally used to shade monarchs from the sun, in the photos. An umbrella was seen near the Prime Minister as he walked with the King. Or were the activists making their comments because of his chair placement relative to the King’s, the Prime Minister mused publicly on his Facebook. 

Either way, Hun Sen denied that the umbrella was intended for him and noted his chair was behind the King in Facebook comments and posts. He said the activists’ posts had been acts of intentional slander, not free expression.

“We have no tolerance. To be clear, this person [Yim Sinorn] has been tolerated once before,” Hun Sen said. “I do not urge the court to take what I said as the weight of the charges, but I must explain to ensure that the King is not insulted, and the Prime Minister is not looked down upon.”

“I want to make it clear that I will not tolerate any of this and I will not accept any apology,” he added.

Hun Kosal in front of the Phnom Penh municipal court to witness Kem Sokha’s verdict on March 3, 2023. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

Am Sam Ath, operating director of human rights group Licadho, said the political situation in Cambodia was “getting tough.”

“It causes an unfavorable environment for the upcoming national elections [in July],” he said, adding that the EU parliament’s recent resolution urging Cambodia to release political prisoners and end persecution of opposition politicians and activists. Last week, the EU parliament warned of targeted sanctions and the further withdrawal of trade preferences if the political situation did not improve.

Sam Ath said that while people have a right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution, they must be cautious and ethical in their speech.