Cambodian to appeal jail sentence for Facebook comment

AP News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2016 5:30 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian student plans to appeal the 18-month jail sentence he received for making a reference on his Facebook page to a "color revolution" in the country, his lawyer said Wednesday, a punishment a human rights group described as "beyond outrageous."

Kong Raiya, a student at Khemarak University in Phnom Penh, was sentenced by the Phnom Penh municipal court on Tuesday on charges of incitement to commit a felony.

He was arrested for posting a comment on Facebook in which he asked if anyone would "dare to make a color revolution with me?" The term refers to peaceful anti-government protests and movements in recent years, including in countries from the former Soviet bloc.

Defense lawyer Sam Sokong said he was preparing documents to submit an appeal next week.

"Marching someone off to prison for 18 months for a Facebook post is beyond outrageous," Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an emailed statement. "Clearly the Cambodian government wants to convey the lesson of a Big Brother police state that we're watching you at all times, and unless you stay quiet, we can and will pull you away."

Incitement to commit a felony is punishable by a prison term ranging from six months to two years. Kong Raiya has already served seven months in jail since his arrest on Aug. 21, a month after Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the military to eradicate any group or people who want to topple his government through a "color revolution."

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy expressed regret that the student was jailed for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

"Kong Raiya was unjustly sentenced today to 18 months in prison only for suggesting a 'color revolution' meaning a democratic and peaceful change for Cambodia," Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page Tuesday.

"Kong Raiya's prosecution is actually a message of threat and intimidation from ruling Cambodian People's Party to the millions of Cambodian youths who share his ideas," he said.

Opposition groups and activists have criticized Hun Sen, one of the longest-serving leaders in the world, for using government machinery to suppress dissent.

"The courts in Cambodia are just like that," Kong Raiya said before being taken away in a prison van after his sentencing. "They are unjust not only to me, but for all Cambodians."

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This story has been corrected to show that Kong Raiya has served seven months in jail instead of eight.