PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A court in Cambodia on Thursday sentenced a political analyst to 18 months in prison on the basis of a criminal complaint by Prime Minister Hun Sen that he had defamed him in a radio interview.
Judge Ky Rithy of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to find Kim Sok guilty of defamation and a charge of inciting chaos.
The prison term was for the charge of inciting chaos, a catch-all provision in the law increasingly used against social and political activists. For the defamation charge, the court ordered Kim Sok to pay 800 million riel ($200,000) as compensation to Hun Sen and an 8 million riel ($2,000) fine to the state.
Kim Sok was arrested in February after giving an interview to U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia that Hun Sen felt implied his government was behind the killing last year of another political analyst and government critic, Kem Ley. A man was convicted in March of the killing but there was widespread skepticism over his claim that his motive was a personal financial dispute.
Kim Sok’s comment “incited public chaos and affected national security and public order and also affected the reputation of the ruling party and Prime Minister Hun Sen,” said the judge. There was a large and spirited memorial march after Kem Ley’s death, but no unrest or violent protest.
Rights groups accuse Hun Sen’s government of using the courts to harass its critics and political opponents, increasingly so in what is seen as an effort to strengthen his Cambodian People’s Party’s position ahead of a general election in July 2018.
On Tuesday, a Cambodian appeals court upheld a 2½-year prison term for a prominent land rights activist accused of inciting violence at a protest she helped lead outside of Hun Sen’s residence.
Kim Sok, who had staged a protest at a previous court session by sticking rolled-up paper in his ears and refusing to answer questions, was defiant again on Thursday, refusing the judge’s order to stand up to hear the verdict. The judge ordered courtroom guards to hold him up, one on each side grabbing his arms and another trying to clap a hand over his mouth to keep him from interrupting the reading of the verdict.
He still managed to complain after his demand that Hun Sen be brought to court was denied, saying as the judge was speaking “I cannot accept punishment from this puppet court.”
“If I am being convicted and imprisoned, Hun Sen has to be convicted to and imprisoned too, because I only made a commentary over the radio but Hun Sen said publicly that he is ready to kill 100 or 200 people,” said Kim Sok, before his hands were shackled and he was taken out of the courtroom.
Hun Sen stated earlier this year that a defeat of his ruling party would cause civil war, and that was willing to see 100 or 200 people eliminated to prevent that.