Two former CNRP members in their 60s pleaded guilty on Tuesday to insulting the king during a phone call to each other, with no explanation given during the trial about how the charge applies to private conversations.
Kong Bunheang, 66, and Hang Seng, 69, former CNRP members from Battambang province, were arrested and charged with insulting the king — a charge added to the Criminal Code in 2018 — over their phone conversation on October 16, according to Judge Kol Kampoul.
Before questioning, the judge read out a transcript of their conversation, which contained several insults against the king as being “stupid” and “yuon,” a common but derogatory word for Vietnamese.
Article 437 defines insulting the king as “a kind of speech, gesture, written text, drawing or any material that offends the dignity” of the monarch.
Bunheang struggled to stand straight during the questioning, saying he had a heart condition and problems with his leg. He initially denied all his previous testimony given to police, prosecutors and an investigating judge, but accepted some points under questioning.
Asked by Judge Kampoul his reason for rejecting his previous testimonies, which he had thumb-printed, the former soldier, who retired from the military in 2009 and joined the opposition CNRP in 2013, said he had just gone along with Seng, the other defendant.
“I accept what I did, and it happened unintentionally because I am sick and old,” Bunheang said.
He added in response to questions from deputy prosecutor Sam Rithy Veasna that he had just agreed with Seng and had not used the insulting words himself.
Seng, meanwhile, accepted some of the charges against him, including using the word “yuon.”
Rithy Veasna, the deputy prosecutor, said yuon was an insult. “Do you think what you said is freedom of expression? Self-expression has to be within the boundaries of the law.”
“I was just making fun and on that day I drank some wine too,” Seng said.
Defense lawyer Long Lun said his clients accepted the charges and promised to stop speaking in a way that insulted the king. They are sick and old, Lun said, and asked the judge to consider mitigating circumstances.
In addition to insulting the king, the phone conversation between the defendants also touched on flooding in Phnom Penh, including criticism of the infilling of Boeng Tamok, one of the city’s “last lakes,” with the support of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The judge is expected to announce a verdict on March 2.