Facebook Death Threat Earns Man 6 Months in Jail

A man who threatened to kill prominent academic Sok Touch in a Facebook post last year has been handed a 6-month prison sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Phong Seiha, 27, said he would “shoot the head of Sok Touch” in a message posted to his Facebook page in August, having deemed the academic a Vietnamese stooge. The government has tasked Mr. Touch, the rector of Phnom Penh’s Khemarak University, with the politically sensitive job of studying the accuracy of border posts between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Phong Seiha is led away from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in September after being charged with making a death threat on Facebook. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Phong Seiha is led away from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in September after being charged with making a death threat on Facebook. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Seiha was arrested in Thailand, where he had been living as a migrant laborer, days after publishing his message and handed over to Cambodian authorities at the Poipet border checkpoint.

Contacted on Wednesday, Presiding Judge Ly Lip Meng said Mr. Seiha was convicted of making a death threat on Tuesday afternoon, but handed a suspended sentence.

“The court sentenced Phong Seiha, 27, to 18 months in prison, [but] the man will serve six months, and he was also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riel [about $250],” he said, declining to discuss the case further.

Mr. Seiha could not be reached for comment. In an interview after his arrest in September, he said he had no intention to shoot Mr. Touch and regretted making such a threat.

His wife, Mao Sopheak, said on Wednesday that her husband did not deserve to spend more time in prison.

“I am not happy with the court’s decision because my husband did nothing wrong,” she said. “My husband just gave a little bit of opin­ion on Facebook and the court sentenced him to 18 months. Oth­er people have done the same thing as my husband, but they remain free.”

Mr. Touch could not be reached, but in a message posted to his own Facebook page after the court verdict, he said he would consider helping to secure Mr. Seiha’s release if asked.

“The sentencing of the person who attempted to kill me is based on court procedure and I never filed a complaint against the person. But after the sentencing, if there is a request from the family, I will consider the possibilities,” he said.

Mr. Seiha’s lawyer, Neang Hay, said he and his client had yet to decide whether to appeal the verdict. He said he doubted that Mr. Touch could be of any help.

“Even though Sok Touch offered to help, I think he cannot because the court already an­nounced the verdict,” he said.

His wife, however, said she would give it a try.

“I will travel to Phnom Penh in the next few days and meet Mr. Sok Touch at his school to ask for his help in releasing my husband,” Ms. Sopheak said.

Mr. Seiha is only the latest person to be prosecuted over comments made on Facebook in recent months.

The cases follow the launch of government initiatives to closely monitor social media, including the creation of a “Cyber War Team” to collect information from websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Mr. Seiha would spend 18 months in prison for making a death threat. His 18-month sentence was suspended to 6 months.

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