On 18 August, the prominent labor rights activist Rong Chhun was sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to two years in prison and fined two million riels ($500) for incitement to cause serious disorder to social security. The ruling comes amid a continuing crackdown on critical voices in Cambodia and according to the Embassy of Sweden in Phnom Penh, it “criminalizes public expression of dissent or political criticism” and the Embassy has in a statement reiterates its call on Cambodia to allow freedom of speech.
The statement posted by the Embassy of Sweden in Phnom Penh on 19 August reads:
“All Cambodian citizens, regardless of their organizational affiliation, need to be guaranteed the freedom of speech and the freedom of peaceful assembly, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the rights enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution. Freedom of speech is an essential part of a functioning democracy, as are independent courts, which should not be used to silence peaceful activists.
The verdict of Mr. Rong Chhun and the other two activists is of our concern, since it criminalizes public expression of dissent or political criticism, and raises questions about the independence of the Cambodian judicial system. Sweden jointly with the European Union in Cambodia reiterates its call on Cambodia to allow freedom of expression and assembly, in accordance with its international commitments.”
According to the Phnom Penh Post, the case appears to stem from comments Rong Chhun made about land rights for villagers along the Cambodia-Vietnam border and has been closely watched by the local and international community. Two other activists, Sor Kanika and Ton Nimol, who were originally arrested for demanding Chhun’s release were also convicted on the same charges and sentenced to 20 months in prison, and fined two million riels each.
Rong Chhun was arrested from his home on July 31 last year for posting claims on Facebook that Cambodia had lost land to Vietnam, citing comments by villagers. He has been in prison ever since and according to Rong Chhun’s defense lawyer Choung Chou Ngy, who also defended Sor Kanika, the sentence was unjust and he was discussing an appeal with his clients. According to the justice ministry, however, Rong Chhun’s arrest adhered to the Kingdom’s Criminal Code as he fabricated information about the line of demarcation at the Cambodia-Vietnam border to mislead the public and cause social unrest.