First Sentence Given for Facebook Comments

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday fined a 29-year-old hairstylist and make-up artist 2 million riel, or about $500, and ordered her to pay 5 million riel, or about $1,250, in compensation to a rival beauty parlor owner she defamed on Facebook.

The sentence is the first ever handed down for comments made on the social networking site, even as a cyber law, which is intended to control the spread of false information on the Internet, is still being drafted.

“The court finds [Duong] Solida guilty of public defamation by writing a [public] message on the social network Facebook” in 2012, presiding Judge Sin Visal said in court.

According to the verdict, Ms. Solida had used her Facebook account “Amazon Duong” to write a message that implied that plaintiff Tann Theara had poached her staff.

“You are a bad guy stealing workers from my shop…you used to work in my shop…you are not a good person,” Ms. Solida wrote on her account after several staff went to work for Mr. Theara.

Judge Visal said that Ms. Solida was sentenced according to Article 305 of the Penal Code, but did not explain how the post had damaged Mr. Theara’s business or reputation.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute of Media Studies, criticized the sentencing Thursday.

“We do not have a cyber law yet, and Facebook should fall under that, so it is not appropriate to sentence or punish anybody for posting comments on Facebook,” Mr. Nariddh said.

As long as the cyber law does not exist, he said, the Press Law should be used to deal with comments made on a public Facebook profile, not the Penal Code.

“Any material on Facebook or other social media is public and generally open to the same public as [information in] a newspaper, so it should fall under the press law,” he said.

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