Reporters Without Borders condemns the six-month jail sentence and fine of 1 million riels (250 dollars) that a Phnom Penh court imposed on World Food Programme employee Seng Kunnaka on a charge of criminal incitement for printing an article critical of the government and showing it to workmates.
Judge Keo Vandy convicted Seng under article 495 of the new criminal code in a summary trial on 19 December for sharing an article from the popular news blog KI-Media referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen and several other senior politicians as “traitors.” KI-Media recently also posted articles criticizing Cambodia’s territorial disputes with Vietnam, a very sensitive topic. Seng’s lawyer, Chou Sokheng, said he would appeal.
“This conviction reflects the harder line being taken by the government on online free expression,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While not commenting on the content of the article, we point out that Seng did not distribute it publicly, which is punishable under Cambodia law. He just printed it in order to read it with two colleagues. He should not be made to suffer because of recent friction between the World Food Programme and the Cambodian government.”
Seng was tried just two days after being arrested in the Phnom Penh neighbourhood of Russei Keo, where he worked at a World Food Programme warehouse. His arrest came just days after the prime minister accused the WFP of wrongly claiming that Cambodia faced the possibility of a food shortage. WFP officials subsequently gave a public apology.
The new criminal code, which took effect on 10 December, reinforced the already existing restrictions on free expression. Article 495 is based on a vague definition of incitement as sharing or exposing the public to speech, writings, drawings or audiovisual telecommunication that could “directly result in a crime being committed” or in “serious social unrest.” Defamation and “affecting the dignity" of others is also punishable under this article.