The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an 18-month prison sentence for a university student who called for a “color revolution” in a Facebook post last year.
“I only have two more months left on my sentence, so I’m not disappointed,” said the 25-year-old defendant, Kong Raya. “But what does hurt and disappoint me is that the Cambodian judicial system’s reputation is rotten.”
Judge Saly Theara said the bench was unmoved by Mr. Raya’s lawyers, who argued that the former Khemarak University student had merely expressed himself.
Mr. Raya was arrested in August last year and charged with incitement to commit a felony after calling the king “stupid” and asking whether anyone on Facebook would “dare to make a color revolution.” The Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down an 18-month sentence in March.
Speaking outside the courtroom on Thursday, Mr. Raya’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said, “We will consider requesting a pardon from the king because he is young, so we don’t want him to have a bad criminal record.”
“If there is another case like this involved with a youth or minor, please don’t treat them like this,” he said. “They are our successors.”
Mr. Raya’s older sister, Kong Dalin, also criticized the verdict.
“My brother is a university law student, so he should have the right to express himself,” she said. “He is a good person and never committed a crime before.”
Rights group Licadho lists Mr. Raya as a political prisoner on its website and says his case “represents the latest development in a growing trend for authorities to take action against online expression.”
Blogger and public policy scholar Kounila Keo said such government action could chill the democratic potential of Facebook, which “has helped expand free speech in Cambodia.” “Court cases against Facebook users might give some people a cold shoulder,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)
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