CNRP Activist Handed 18-Month Sentence for Nationalist Comments at Rally

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Protester Prum Chantha is surrounded by people taking photos and uniformed authorities near the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on February 4, 2021. (Va Sopheanut/VOD)
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The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced a former opposition party activist to a year and half in prison for comments posted in a video clip calling the government soft against the country’s Vietnamese minority, which were made during a rally for jailed unionist Rong Chhun.

Chhun was arrested in July last year after claiming Cambodia was ceding land to Vietnam, igniting a series of protests that rekindled the country’s long history of racially charged opposition politics.

Many activists, including those from youth group Khmer Thavrak, are on trial for incitement over the protests.

Former CNRP activist Pen Chan Sangkream, 48, was arrested in December and charged in a separate incitement case. He was sentenced at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday to 18 months in jail and a fine of 3 million riel, or about $750. His trial was held on July 16.

After reading the verdict, judge Hok Pov said Chan Sangkream had the right to appeal.

In a six-minute video clip filmed at an August rally and widely shared on social media, Chan Sangkream criticized the government over its soft stance in dealing with border issues with Vietnam and Vietnamese migrants. He criticized CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan for comments about the border, said the government was failing to find markets for agricultural products, and censured Khmers for taking revenge against Khmers.

He also criticized those who ordered violence against protesters. “Those who give orders to you every day are criminal commanders. They, themselves, have cars, positions, have villas … and secretly order through [walkie-talkies],” he said in the video.

Looking much thinner than before, Chan Sangkream told a reporter as he was escorted out of the courtroom that the verdict was unjust. Defense lawyer Sam Sokong could not be reached for comment.

Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said on Wednesday that charges of plotting and incitement were frequently being used against activists, despite national and international laws guaranteeing the right to expression and peaceful demonstrations.

She said the charges had been used against environmentalists as well as political activists.

“The fact of people showing their concerns over a social issue … such as environmental issues should not be a crime,” Sopheap said. “The government has a duty to guarantee a civic society space for all people without discrimination.”

Additional reporting by Khan Leakhena

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