The Siem Reap Provincial Court last week convicted Tao Savoeun, 26, of threatening to kill Interior Minister Sar Kheng at a graduation ceremony but will only require him to serve one month of his 15-month prison sentence, meaning he should be released within days.
Mr. Savoeun, a former student at the University of South-East Asia in Siem Reap City, said in a Facebook comment last month that he would bomb his class’ graduation ceremony, which was to be presided over by Mr. Kheng. The young man said he was upset because the event had been repeatedly postponed, but that he had no intention of going through with the threat.
Judge Chhun Chanseiha said on Sunday that he announced the decision immediately after Mr. Savoeun’s trial on Thursday.
“We tried him on the 22nd, in the morning, and he confessed that he did it and that he did not intend to do what he wrote,” the judge said.
“He had sent a letter to ask for forgiveness from [Mr. Kheng], and Samdech responded that he forgave him,” he added. “After we considered these factors, we decided to sentence him to 15 months but serve one month in prison.”
Mr. Savoeun’s lawyer, Tha Roathon, said his client should walk free within the week.
“Because of his short temper, he got angry because the school delayed [the graduation] two or three times and he had a hard time to ask for permission [to take time off] from his workplace,” he said. “He was so happy when he heard the court’s decision…because the court reduced his sentence.”
Mr. Roathon said the one month in jail started September 30, the day his client was charged and placed in pretrial detention, and that he expected Mr. Savoeun to be released on Wednesday or Thursday.
Mr. Savoeun’s cousin, Khou Sokha, said he attended the trial and welcomed the decision.
“His parents and I were very happy that the court decided to reduce his sentence to one month,” he said. “The court has been just with him because he did not intend to do what he wrote on Facebook.
“This is a good lesson for him and for others to prevent them from doing what he did,” Mr. Sokha said.
However, Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the decision was further proof that the country’s courts were not independent.
“The court decided to reduce his sentence…because [Mr. Kheng] was tolerant and forgave him,” he said. “This shows that the court is not independent and is under the influence of the rich and powerful.”
Mr. Sam Ath said the courts have also shown bias in other recent cases of threats made online, including the case of Kong Raya, a university student arrested in August for taking to Facebook to call for a “color revolution,” and of Interior Ministry official Pheng Vannak, who remains free after a threat to kill CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was posted on a Facebook page bearing his name.