Cambodian activists charged with insulting king on Facebook
A judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court also charged the two men with incitement to cause serious social unrest in the country.
Two Cambodian opposition figures have been charged under the country’s rarely used lese majeste law with insulting King Norodom Sihamoni for posts made on Facebook about a photograph of the king and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
A judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday also charged Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal with incitement to cause serious social unrest in the country, a court document showed.
The men, once members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), could face a jail term of up to five years and fines of up to $2,500 if found guilty.
They were arrested on Tuesday over their posts about a photograph of King Sihamoni and Hun Sen standing together at a torch relay ceremony for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.
Speaking to @AP News about the unjust charges against 2 political opposition activists who are facing prison for comments they made on @facebook. Freedom of expression is going extinct in #Cambodia under @PeacePalaceKH. https://t.co/pKWsgOBIrA
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) March 23, 2023
The court did not specify what the posts said.
Neither Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal nor their legal representatives could immediately be reached for comment.
Yim Sinorn later posted on Facebook that he had deleted what he wrote about the king and Hun Kosal said he respected the king and would promote the royal family.
Hun Sen, in comments on his official Facebook page about the arrests and before the men were charged, said: “This is an insulting act that cannot be tolerated or excused.”
He said the men should never be forgiven, denying that his remarks were aimed at pressuring the court.
Free speech going ‘extinct’
The actions against the two activists drew criticism from New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Freedom of expression is going extinct under PM Hun Sen’s government as the national election approaches in July,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, in a statement.
“Simply sharing opinions on Facebook about a government ceremony should not be considered a crime, so the truth of the matter is political activists Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal did nothing that they should be detained for,” he added.
Cambodia’s lese majeste law was unanimously adopted by parliament in 2018. Rights groups expressed concerns at the time that the law, which is similar to legislation in neighbouring Thailand, could be used to silence government critics.
The CNRP was banned ahead of the 2018 election that was swept by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
CNRP has since been decimated, with many of its members arrested or fleeing into exile in what activists say is a sweeping crackdown designed to thwart challenges to the CPP’s power monopoly.
Kem Sokha, who once headed CNRP, was sentenced on March 3 to 27 years of house arrest after being found guilty of treason, in a case condemned by the United States as politically motivated.
He had denied the charges he was conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly four decades.