The Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld an 18-month sentence handed to a university student who called for a “color revolution” on Facebook last year, saying the young man had intended to incite a crime through his online postings.
Kong Raya, 25, was detained in August while walking to class at Phnom Penh’s Khemarak University and was later charged with incitement. His offense was having written posts on his Facebook page asking if anyone would “dare to make a color revolution” with him and calling the king “stupid.”
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the student guilty in March and sentenced him to 18 months in prison—a decision Mr. Raya called unjust and vowed to appeal.
Sin Visal, presiding judge at the Court of Appeal, upheld the decision on Thursday.
“The acts of the defendant really do have enough elements to incite a crime that requires it to be punished by the law,” Judge Visal said.
Sam Sokong, a lawyer for Mr. Raya, criticized the decision after it was handed down, emphasizing that his client had never planned to topple the government.
“He had no intention to cause damage or a revolution,” Mr. Sokong said.
“If we look into his ability and capacity, even if he announced and posted on Facebook, there would be no participation because he is not a leader of an organized movement. He is just a youth who is studying. He doesn’t have the ability to make a color revolution,” he said.
Exiting the courtroom, Mr. Raya said he was unhappy with the decision and compared his treatment to that of three members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit who received a year in jail in May for brutally attacking two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly.
“Those who beat and wanted to kill the lawmakers were imprisoned for only a year,” Mr. Raya told reporters.
“For me, I just wrote the words ‘color revolution’ legally and they sentenced me to a year and a half. It is such an injustice, and I will appeal to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Mr. Raya said he had checked the definition of “color revolution”—a term generally used to describe nonviolent demonstrations that lead to changes in government—with a teacher before writing the post.
“I asked him, ‘Is the meaning of color revolution the same as demonstration?’ He said it has a similar meaning,” Mr. Raya said. “I think it is not against the law.”
Political analyst Ou Virak said the court’s decision showed that the government was increasingly skittish about expressions of political dissent.
“I think recent events seem to point to a government that is a bit more afraid of its people,’” Mr. Virak said. “There seems to be a change in the air in terms of how the government will respond to this kind of sentiment or this kind of opinion.”
(Additional reporting by George Wright)