A news publisher who was imprisoned over criticisms of Prime Minister Hun Sen in several social media posts pleaded guilty at his trial on Tuesday but said he was just trying to arouse interest and more “likes.”
Appearing in court with an IV needle in his arm, Cheat Khmer publisher Ros Sokhet, 41, insisted on standing for his testimony even after the presiding judge suggested he sit down. His voice was unclear, with judges asking him several times to repeat his statements.
Sokhet, who has been in Prey Sar prison following his arrest in June, was admitted to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital a few days ago for heart disease. He was visibly frail on Tuesday, while holding his IV bag.
He told the court that he had no intention to sow discord in society.
“I just wanted people to press ‘like’” on Facebook, he said. “After getting arrested, I know I was wrong.”
According to Presiding Judge Yi Sokvouch, authorities found eight posts from May and June that they deemed inflammatory.
“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 a post dated June 24, using a common Khmer word for Vietnamese that some consider derogatory.
On June 24, he 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.”
The presiding judge also noted that Sokhet had previously been imprisoned for a year for disinformation. In 2009, Sokhet was arrested for sending disparaging text messages to a news anchor.
Deputy prosecutor Che Song questioned Sokhet about whether there was anyone behind Cheat Khmer, saying it was not well-known and likely made little money.
“Is there anyone behind it? Hundreds of newspapers want to be famous by publishing the truth. I rather think there is someone in support behind it,” Song said.
Ros Sokhet denied having any outside financial backing. He published a newspaper in print from 2011 to 2016, but now he just posted on social media. His headlines might be strong, but the content was nothing extraordinary, he said.
“No! [I] just want to get attention. I don’t have any party,” Sokhet said.
“So you are clear that you have done it by yourself?” the deputy prosecutor asked.
“No one sponsored it. I did everything myself,” the defendant replied.
Sam Vandy, chief of the municipal police’s cybercrime bureau, told the court that his office started investigating Sokhet on May 19 and found that he was actively posting content that was inciting chaos in society.
“Based on the investigation, the content of the posts really is inciting and causing chaos and social insecurity,” Vandy said.
Defense lawyer Sam Sokong asked the judge to show leniency toward his client, and also give his client bail until next month’s sentencing so he can properly treat his illness.
Sokong added that his client had made an apology to Hun Sen, and had no intention to cause chaos in society. No one sponsored his work as a journalist, the lawyer added.
“His intention was just to have his page be known, not to commit any crimes,” Sokong said.
Chhoeung Sineang, another lawyer for the defense, argued that no chaos had actually resulted from Sokhet’s headlines.
“He just put those headlines to get attention,” Sineang said.
Sokvouch, the presiding judge, said she would announce the verdict on November 11.