The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday has charged a man with “incitement” and “public insult” for allegedly mocking a speech made by Prime Minister Hun Sen on whether to impose a state of emergency in the country.
Investigating judge Hong Sokun Vathana issued a warrant for 41-year-old Ny Nak, who sells sausages and agricultural products, for allegedly insulting Hun Sen in comments made using his Facebook page IMan-KH, according to the Interior Ministry’s Anti Cyber Crime Department. He is charged under Articles 307, 494 and 496 of the Criminal Code.
Ny Nak posted comments on his Facebook page on December 7 where he tweaked the wording of comments made by Hun Sen and gave them poultry references instead.
“I have already prepared or drafted a letter and documents to place my chicken’s coop in a state of emergency because the virus flu is spreading in the farm,” he wrote, replacing Hun Sen’s use of the word “country” with “chicken coop.”
“I do not want to think about this because it is seriously damaging the economy of the chickens. I hope that all the chickens will be able to wear masks and sleep in cages and not go out unless necessary.”
Photographs posted to Nak’s Facebook page show him rearing chickens at a farm. The page has close to 300,000 likes and 390,000 followers.
According to a post on the Anti Cyber Crime Department’s Facebook page, the department received a complaint from the Agriculture Ministry, after which police officials arrested Nak from his residence on December 10. The same post reminded citizens that they should use social media “responsibly” and not affect the reputation of civil servants, the prime minister and other people.
According to the Criminal Code, incitement to discrimination is punishable by imprisonment from one to three years and a fine from two million to six million riel ($500 to $1,500). Public insult is punishable by a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million riel ($25 to $2,500).
Suos Vithyearandy, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson, said Monday that Nak was sent to pretrial detention at Prey Sar Prison’s Correctional Center 1 on December 12. He declined to give additional details about the case.
Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said Nak’s posts implied there was Avian influenza on chicken farms and that such news could damage the country’s economy and people’s health.
“It depends on the court [what to do next] because it is now with the court,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that Nak was obviously being humorous in his posts and that the comments did not come close to causing incitement or public insult.
“In criminal cases, the law must be interpreted strictly. Judges cannot extend the scope of practice,” Mong Hay said.
Mong Hay said satire or critical commentary that was humorous, were hallmarks of a liberal, multi-party democracy and should not be considered a criminal offense.
“The Cambodian Criminal Code also does not consider comedy to be a criminal offense,” he added.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said Nak’s arrest was alarming and a violation of his fundamental freedom of expression.
She continued that freedom of expression, as enshrined in both international and domestic legislation, provides individuals with the right to hold opinions and to convey them through any medium.
“This has a detrimental impact on Cambodian society, as it deters individuals from public participation and fosters a culture of fear and self-censorship,” Sopheap said. “Ultimately self-censorship in Cambodia results in the public being excluded from vital dialogues about the governance of the country, and extinguishes an important safeguard for government accountability.”
Chin Malin, a Justice Ministry spokesperson, said the law does not look at whether Nak was joking or not, but only considered if the elements of a crime were involved in his actions.
“So, the [judge] charged him based on the law and progressed the procedure through the court,” Malin said.
Malin added that writing messages or comments that were “criminal based on the law” was not freedom of expression