Former CNRP Commune Chief Arrested Last Year Tried Again for Incitement

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Lanh Thavry (left) and Kim Tola hold hands as they walk out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court and into a prison van on February 6, 2023. (Ouch Sony/VOD)
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A former CNRP commune chief who was blocked from leaving the country last year had a retrial at a Phnom Penh court after she was convicted in absentia for incitement.

The case is linked to an incitement conviction against another CNRP commune chief from Banteay Meanchey, Lanh Thavry, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August 2022 for comments she made on Facebook between 2018 and 2019. Mich Heang, another Cambodian worker from Thailand, was simultaneously given three years in prison for incitement and insulting the king. 

Five others, including Kim Tola, a former CNRP commune chief from Kampong Speu, were also convicted in absentia and sentenced to 18 months in prison last August. Tola was arrested in November at the Phnom Penh airport while trying to leave the country.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court hearing was a retrial for Tola, whose location was allegedly not known during last year’s proceedings. During the trial on Monday, little evidence was presented against Tola except for an admission from her and Thavry that they were connected on Facebook.

Tola rejected the charges against her and said she did not commit any crime in collusion with Thavry — who was present in court as a witness along with Heang.

“It is so unfair to me. If I participated in it, I would have accepted it. I would like to ask the court to closely investigate and to find justice for me,” she told the judge.

Tola and her lawyer Ket Khy said in court that she was still serving a previous sentence when Thavry made the comments online. However, she was first convicted in 2021, and the Thavry comments date back to 2018. The case file, read out by the court, points to comments made by Thavry in 2018 and 2019 as evidence of her crimes.

At one point Tola got emotional as she tried to prove her innocence, and judge Chum Sangva asked her to calm down but persisted in asking if she had ever seen or shared Thavry’s Facebook posts. Tola denied seeing any of Thavry’s posts and said she kept no contact with former CNRP members after the party was dissolved in 2017.

When Thavry was questioned as a witness, the former commune chief said she had gone to work in Thailand after the CNRP was dissolved and had no interactions with Tola. But, prosecutor Seng Meng Srun continued with this same line of questioning.

“Did Kim Tola participate in any part in these activities?” Meng Srun asked.

“No, never! Nothing, I was far away,” Thavry said. “She has never chatted with me or commented.”

Heang said he too had no connection to Thavry or her Facebook posts. He admitted to the comments he posted about the king but said no one instigated him to make the comments.

In a surprising comment, Meng Srun used his closing arguments to invoke a reference to a recent speech made by Hun Sen. 

“We support democracy. But if it turns to anarchy, then it will need a stick,” he said.

Hun Sen recently used the same phrasing when he told opposition members that if they criticized the ruling party they would have to face the stick or lawsuits.

A verdict is expected on February 27.

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