Dragged to his feet to hear a guilty verdict for incitement and defamation, government critic Kim Sok doubled-down on Thursday on his claims that the CPP orchestrated last year’s murder of political analyst Kem Ley.
“I do not need to stand up and listen to your order,” he told the judge, repeating claims that the court merely followed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bidding. “This is an effigy of a court.”
Judge Ky Rithy was unmoved, ordering Mr. Sok to serve an 18-month prison sentence and pay Mr. Hun Sen, as the president of the ruling CPP, about $200,000 in compensation. He also fined him 8 million riel, or about $2,000. The $200,000 falls short of the demands of Mr. Hun Sen, who filed two civil lawsuits demanding about $500,000 and $2,500 against his antagonist, who made the claims about Kem Ley’s July 2016 murder on Radio Free Asia.
“According to the facts of incitement and defamation, Kim Sok committed the crime and admitted it was his voice in the video clip when he was interviewed by Radio Free Asia,” Judge Rithy said.
Mr. Sok was jailed in February after voicing his unsubstantiated—if also widely-held—belief about the murder on the radio program. He repeated it again on Thursday.
“It’s true that the Cambodian People’s Party was behind the murder,” he said, as a prison guard attempted to cover his mouth with the neck of Mr. Sok’s shirt. “Please all brothers and sisters, see for yourself.”
Mr. Sok scuffled with guards as he attempted to interject again.
“If I’m imprisoned for true claims, so Mr. Hun Sen should be in prison too,” he said.
Ky Tech, the prime minister’s lawyer, said that with Kem Ley’s shooter, Oeuth Ang, already sentenced to life behind bars, Mr. Sok’s comments clearly amounted to defamation.
“The decision is fair to the plaintiff and it was fair to the one who committed the crime,” Mr. Tech said.
The commentator’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, said he would consult with Mr. Sok on whether to lodge an appeal.
“I have nothing to say because it’s gone too far,” Mr. Choungy said, before hanging up on a reporter.
Mr. Sok has contested the legitimacy of the courts, the trial and Mr. Hun Sen at every turn, vowing to take the showdown to “the boiling point.” He attempted to summon the prime minister for questioning during a hearing and claimed that Mr. Hun Sen’s officials sought his apology in exchange for leniency.
At his hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month, Mr. Sok stuffed paper into his ears in protest of what he said was a politically-motivated trial and blasted the court for following the orders of “Hun Sen’s hellish saliva.”
The charges were the latest twist in the life of the former Funcinpec supporter and Information Ministry official, who rapidly rose to prominence at the end of last year for his outspoken commentary on RFA.
Hang Vitou, director of the Kem Ley Foundation and author of a biography of Mr. Sok, said that Mr. Sok’s loud, sudden rise had been accelerated by what he called an unjust trial.
“Although he has no evidence, it is just his opinion,” Mr. Vitou said. The CPP could have used less heavy-handed warnings against the commentator, he said.
Mr. Sok was being punished for giving voice to widespread skepticism around who had ordered Kem Ley’s murder, the analyst said. Mr. Vitou said he had made his own inquiries into the killing and had repeatedly encountered reticence among his sources.
“I used to ask many people in my investigation, and they used to say, ‘I know, but I can’t say.’ ‘I know, but I can’t say,’” Mr. Vitou said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)