Two anti-government activists in Cambodia were charged in court on Wednesday with insulting the king and instigating a crime over comments they made on social media about Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni.
Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal, both associated with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by court order in 2017, face up to seven years in prison if convicted by the Phnom Penh municipal court.
The two men were arrested after Hun Sen, who has held power for 38 years, said he was offended by their online remarks about watching a Tuesday TV broadcast of him and the king attending a torch-lighting ceremony for the 32nd Southeast Asian Games, which Cambodia will host in May.
Hun Sen said their comments on how he interacted with the king implied that he was showing disrespect and usurping the king’s status. She accused the two of trying to drive a wedge between him and the monarch, who is the head of state but wields no real political power.
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Speaking at a graduation ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said he made no signs or disrespectful gestures and told all TV stations to play the video of the ceremony so the Cambodian people could watch and make their judgements. .
“Why should you have bad intentions against us? What is your real purpose?” asked Hun Sen. He accused the comments of being intentional and slanderous and would not forgive them.
The actions against the two activists drew criticism from New York-based Human Rights Watch.
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“Freedom of expression is dying out under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule as national elections in July approach. Simply sharing opinions on Facebook about a government ceremony shouldn’t be considered a crime, so the truth is that activists politicians Yim Sinorn and Hun Kosal has done nothing for which they should be detained,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy director for Asia, said in a statement.
Robertson said the two activists “will likely face a long term in prison followed by a show trial on trumped-up, politically motivated charges.” You have called for their immediate and unconditional release.
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Earlier this month, prominent opposition leader Kem Sokha was convicted of treason and sentenced to 27 years of house arrest, another in a long string of coups in a government campaign to silence his critics or drive them out of the country.
Kem Sokha’s arrest in September 2017 marked the beginning of a vicious campaign by the Hun Sen government to use the courts – widely considered to be under its influence – to crack down on dissent. Since then, most of the government’s other top critics have fled Cambodia to escape what were generally seen as politically inspired prosecutions.