Khmer Power Party’s Head Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

Sourn Serey Ratha, head of the Khmer Power Party, was sentenced on Friday to five years in prison over Facebook posts critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen and military leaders, just a day after his snap trial on incitement charges.

Nai Chariya, Mr. Serey Ratha’s wife, decried the verdict as an injustice that curtailed free speech and said it would be appealed. “I will continue to protest to find him justice,” she said.

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KPP Head Sourn Serey Ratha is escorted out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday after receiving a five-year sentence. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Ros Piseth also ordered Mr. Serey Ratha, 43, to pay a fine of 10 million riel, or about $2,500, on the charges of “inciting military personnel to disobedience, demoralization of the army and incitement to commit felony.”

His lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, said the sentence was too harsh and trampled on his right to free speech.

A frequent government critic, Mr. Serey Ratha was arrested on August 13 in the wake of a brief border dispute with Laos that saw armored vehicles paraded around Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument and Mr. Hun Sen fly into Vientiane to negotiate a resolution.

In scathing Facebook posts, Mr. Serey Ratha wrote, “The marshal orders the troops to be ready to attack, gives an ultimatum to his foe, but bows down his head and enters his adversary’s barracks asking for negotiation.”

National Police chief Neth Savoeun said after the arrest that Mr. Serey Ratha was detained because his comments incited soldiers to disobey their commanders’ orders. He was previously convicted of incitement and other charges in 2015 and sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison. He fled the country after the 2013 national election when he was branded a terrorist by the government. He returned in 2015 following a royal pardon with no explanation.

Speaking outside the courthouse on Friday, acting KPP President Soung Sophorn agreed that the case against Mr. Serey Ratha was politically motivated, but that he would not be frightened and would remain outspoken and critical of the government.

“When the Cambodian nation, the people of Cambodia still suffer, the nation still needs us,” he said. “We are still courageous, we will still sacrifice, even sacrificing our lives.”

(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)

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