A 22-year-old musician who rapped nationalist lyrics about “the bravery to stand up” has been found guilty of incitement and jailed for 12 months, while an underage collaborator who apologized in court was handed a suspended sentence and freed.
The Siem Reap Provincial Court on Tuesday found both young musicians guilty of incitement to disturb social security following their arrests in September, said court spokesperson Yin Srang.
Kea Sokun, 22, was handed an 18-month jail sentence suspended to one year, while the other hip-hop artist, a 17-year-old, was sentenced to a five-month jail term suspended to the three months he had already served, Srang said.
Kea Channa, Sokun’s older sister, said she and her family regretted the court’s decision, calling it an injustice.
“What my brother did was not something guilty or the poisoning of society. He is a patriotic young man. He always wants to see his country grow positively, and he wants Cambodians to love each other and be united,” Channa said. “But they charged him with incitement to create chaos.”
Sokun’s lyrics, while calling for courage, also focus on Cambodia’s territorial borders, claiming that “the other race is encroaching.” Concerns over Vietnamese inroads into Cambodia along disputed stretches of the border have a legacy in race-baiting opposition politics, and have led to the arrests of a prominent unionist and young activists this year.
“He is a patriot and wants to help society, and wants people to understand about society,” Channa said. “I think the authorities should take my brother to be educated and correct his mistakes if he made mistakes.”
“They broke his spirit,” she said.
During their trial last month, the 17-year-old apologized and said he was young and had limited knowledge, but Sokun did not apologize, saying he did not have ill intentions.
Sar Vannara, Siem Reap provincial coordinator at human rights group Licadho, argued that the verdict encroached on the right to free expression.
“[It] silences people’s freedoms and right to express their opinions, and makes people afraid to express their opinions,” he said.
Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson for rights group Adhoc, also said he disagreed with the court’s decision. People should be allowed to speak out on social issues, he said.
“In this case, we find the court’s decision very regrettable,” Senkaruna said. “He should be released and the charges should be dropped so that he can be free to continue his work and return to his normal life.”
“When we punish people who express their views, it shows that the government is restrictive and it impacts democracy in the country,” he added.
Separately, Sok Udom, owner of the 99.75 FM radio station and Rithysen news website, was also found guilty of incitement on Tuesday and sentenced to 20 months in jail and a fine of 20 million riel (about $5,000), said Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court spokesperson Hong Kimhak.
Udom was arrested in May following a series of social media posts about an illegal construction in Kampong Chhnang city, allegedly by a Vietnamese national, and a protest during which residents accused provincial authorities of grabbing land within the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary.