Political party leader Sourn Serey Ratha denied any ill intent behind a series of Facebook posts critical of the military and Prime Minister Hun Sen during his trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday.
In a number of posts earlier this month, the Khmer Power Party president accused military commanders of shirking their duties at the expense of their subordinates and the premier of subservience to his Laotian counterpart in the midst of a border row. He was promptly arrested and charged with inciting military personnel to disobedience, demoralizing the army and incitement to commit a felony.
“I am a politician and I have the right to use my political rights to express my ideas for the people to consider,” Mr. Serey Ratha said at his trial. “I had no bad intentions and no intention to do what I am charged with doing.”
Deputy prosecutor Seng Heang told Mr. Serey Ratha that he had earlier admitted that his posts had dishonored soldiers. Mr. Serey Ratha did not confirm the claim but said he had little control over what he said in the wake of his arrest because he was tired, stressed and facing intense questioning.
Judge Ros Piseth asked him why he had accused commanders of being “thieves.” Mr. Serey Ratha said gifts he had sent soldiers engaged in a military skirmish with Thailand along the border in 2011 had ended up in the local market for sale, possibly confiscated by commanders, and did not want the same thing to happen again. He defended his blunt language and said politicians should be able to take criticism.
“I don’t know how to use sweet words. I like to speak directly,” he said. “A politician, a good leader needs to listen to honest words, and when he looks in the mirror and sees the face is not good, there is no need to break the mirror.”
His lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, said the prosecution was citing his client’s posts selectively and ignoring others in which Mr. Serey Ratha had called for national unity. He argued that there was no evidence that anything his client had posted had actually incited any soldiers or encouraged them to disobey their superiors and asked that the charges be dropped.
Judge Piseth said he would announce the verdict today. If convicted of all three charges, Mr. Serey Ratha could face a maximum of 12 years in jail.