More Incitement Cases Brought Against Two Government Critics

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The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 18, 2021 (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)
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The Phnom Penh Municipal Court brought another incitement case against two government critics to trial on Friday, accusing them of spreading misinformation on social media and trying to incite chaos with Facebook posts criticizing Covid-19 lockdowns and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The two defendants, Meas Leakhena and Kay Sophy, were not present in the court Friday. Leakhena is already facing a separate court case related to other alleged Facebook comments about exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The court clerk said police had sent letters to the defendants to join the trial but had not received responses; Sophy lives in Germany and Leakhena lives in the Philippines. Without the defendants, Friday’s proceedings lasted under an hour and included judge Seng Socheat, a prosecutor and three officials from the anti-terrorism police.

Chan Darith, director of an office of the anti-terrorism unit, told the court that police had monitored the defendants’ Facebook posts closely last year. Two accounts —  operated under different names but allegedly owned by the two defendants — posted statuses and Facebook live videos that Darith said “spread a lot of misinformation to cause chaos in society.”

In April 2021, an account under the name Sophy Anderson — which police say is owned by defendant Sophy — posted a live video saying the government was illegally detaining people inside their houses during the Covid-19 pandemic, aiming to earn money by selling food to them while preventing them from going outside.

“This post possibly can cause severe damage to the social order and cause chaos in society,” said Darith.

“So we have to take legal action on this, because what if people stand up and do not practice social distancing? It must be difficult for the government to control the Covid-19 situation.” 

Darith went on to accuse defendant Leakhena of posting misinformation about Hun Sen’s health.

“The two of them have actual plans to spread misinformation during Covid-19, in order to make it difficult for the government to control the situation,” he said, adding that it “can make people lose trust in the government.” 

Police filed a complaint against the two on July 6, 2021, with an arrest warrant following on September 9 that year. 

After Darith spoke, the judge asked the court clerk to read the police report in its entirety, quoting from alleged Facebook live posts, including an April 24, 2021, speech from the page allegedly operated by Sophy.

“The government did not allow philanthropists to help people who were detained inside their houses. So that [the government] can ask their officials to sell rice, and food to the people by themselves,” the clerk read.

On June 26, the clerk said, Sophy posted a Facebook status calling Hun Sen a “traitor” and asking, “How does he have any right to share the country’s properties with his relatives?”

The court clerk also read from Leakhena’s alleged posts, including one on April 26, 2021, in which she performed a Facebook live broadcast: “I hope all the Cambodian families get rid of the hand of the evil [Hun Sen]. And I wish that Hun Sen’s families [would be] tarnished because of what they did,” the clerk said.

In another live video, Leakhena accused Hun Sen of posting old voice messages, saying it was evidence he must be close to dying, the clerk said.

Judge Socheat asked the prosecutor Lim Bun Heng what he thought of the police report.

Bun Heng said that he concluded that the complaints are “fact-based” as the police report showed the defendants were “intentionally spreading misinformation.”

“They did actually commit the crime,” he said of the two defendants. “And all these actions can cause severe damage to national security and social order.”

Judge Socheat said he will announce the verdict on January 18, 2023.

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