The Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the more than two-year prison sentence the Phnom Penh Municipal Court gave opposition lawmaker Um Sam An for Facebook posts critical of the government’s demarcation of the country’s frontier with Vietnam.
Presiding Judge Seng Sivutha, in upholding the lower court’s October 10 verdict, said the CNRP lawmaker’s actions in posting disinformation via video “impacted the government’s reputation” and caused “chaos and insecurity in society.”
“The Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict is correct,” Mr. Sivutha said.
Mr. Sam An was not present in the courtroom for the ruling, having sent a letter ahead of the hearing saying he did not want to participate, but his four lawyers attended. The CNRP had previously characterized the prosecution as unconstitutional.
One lawyer, Hem Socheat, said after the ruling that the Appeal Court’s decision was improper on freedom of speech grounds and because Mr. Sam An had immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker. He said an appeal to the Supreme Court would be forthcoming.
“Criticizing on Facebook, the law does not regard this as a crime, because criticizing on Facebook is expression and he is a lawmaker,” Mr. Socheat said.
“What he does, it is involved with the benefit of the country and the people,” Mr. Socheat said. “My client just criticized to develop.”
Mr. Sam An was arrested in April after returning to Cambodia from the U.S., where he had sought evidence that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government was using the wrong maps to demarcate the disputed border with Vietnam, ceding Cambodian territory in the process. He repeatedly took to Facebook to accuse the government of using the wrong maps.
Prosecutor Khut Sopheang, in his conclusion to the court, said that as a lawmaker Mr. Sam An’s rightful place for criticism was the National Assembly, but Mr. Sam An expressed himself outside those boundaries.
“The decision of the lower level court that sentenced Um Sam An to two years and six months in prison is based on clear evidence,” Mr. Sopheang said.
“His posting on the Facebook page made the people confused and it created chaos in society,” he said. “It is enough to find Um Sam An guilty of inciting social disorder and inciting discrimination.”
Because the Facebook posts remain available online, the government said he was caught committing a crime, thereby skirting the legal immunity for lawmakers, as it is an exception in the Constitution.
In addition to the prison sentence, Mr. Sam An was fined 4 million riel, or about $1,000.
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