A December social media post about putting a chicken coop in a state of emergency due to a spreading virus was penalized with an 18-month prison sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“I have prepared a letter and documents to request putting my chicken coop in a state of emergency. The reason is that the flu virus is spreading on the farm. I didn’t want it to reach this point, because it will seriously damage the economy of the chickens. I hope all the chickens will be able to wear masks and sleep in cages, and do not go out if it is not needed,” says the post, written by Phnom Penh man Ny Nak, 41, an agricultural entrepreneur and educator who sold sausages online.
The post appeared to mimic Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speeches that he has a state of emergency law in hand in case a Covid-19 outbreak spirals out of control, and attracted hundreds of comments and thousands of reactions.
On Thursday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin said Nak was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Wednesday and fined 2 million riel, about $500, for public insult and incitement to disturb social security committed on December 7, 2020.
At the time of Nak’s arrest, Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the post was ill-intended.
“This is your outsider judgement,” Malin told a reporter at the time when asked if it was only a joke. “Authorities and the prosecutors have grounds to specify that this is a crime and this is not an expression of a viewpoint. It is based on the ill-intention of the perpetrator in the past and recent actions that led to the charge.”
Am Sam Ath, a deputy director at human rights group Licadho, said on Thursday that Nak was known to comment and offer criticism online related to agriculture. But his post about chickens wearing masks had caused his arrest.
“This verdict yesterday is a message that makes those who have constructive ideas or criticisms in relation to social issues be fearful and hesitant and will limit their freedom of expression,” Sam Ath said.
“For a democratic country, if it is missing the sharing of ideas in a constructive way, it will not be able to progress quickly.”