News Publisher Sentenced to 18 Months in Jail for Incitement

2 min read
A hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court (UNOHCHR)

A news publisher has been sentenced to 18 months in prison over criticisms of Prime Minister Hun Sen in several social media posts.

Ros Sokhet, 41, publisher of Cheat Khmer, pleaded guilty to incitement at his trial last month, when he said he had posted about the prime minister for Facebook “likes,” not to cause chaos.

At the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday afternoon, Judge Yi Sokvouch sentenced Sokhet to 18 months in jail and a fine of 2 million riel, or about $500, for incitement to disturb social security.

As the sentence was announced, Sokhet looked down to the floor and whispered to his lawyer. They plan to file an appeal to the Appeal Court.

Sokhet’s wife, Chun Sivoeun, said she had hoped the court would show some leniency — he had admitted wrongdoing, and he was sick with a heart condition.

“I don’t want him to die in prison,” Sivoeun, 35, said. “He has not committed a serious crime. … He made a confession. But in the end the court still gave a sentence without considering his illness and his confession — we are very upset with the court’s decision.”

As he left the court for prison, Sokhet asked his wife for $100 for prison expenses. She had only $70 to give.

He told VOD as he was escorted away that he would appeal. “It is an injustice for me,” Sokhet said. “What I have wrote has not caused chaos or anarchy in society … there was no protest or any chaos.”

Sokhet’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, added that the publisher was struggling in prison since his arrest. “He has been suffering a lot,” Sokong said. “He had hoped that after making a confession the court would reduce his punishment.”

Incitement, a crime frequently used against government critics, is punishable by six months to two years in jail.

During his trial, the court heard about Sokhet’s Facebook posts related to microfinance and Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet.

“Hun Sen will lose everything if he still insists on installing his son to be prime minister. Yuon does not support Hun Manet,” Sokhet said in one of the posts, dated June 24, using a common Khmer word for Vietnamese that is generally considered derogatory. 

On June 24, he also wrote: “Hun Sen is backed into a corner as people fall into poverty, with no money to pay the bank, while encouraging the bank to confiscate the property of those people who listen to the opposition group [who advise them] to not pay back the bank.”

Sokhet said at the trial that he had published a newspaper in print from 2011 to 2016, but now he just posted on social media. His headlines were strong to draw attention, but the content was nothing extraordinary, he had said.

The chief of the municipal police’s cybercrime bureau, however, had testified that they had monitored Sokhet’s posts since May and considered them as inciting chaos in society.

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