Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced a university lecturer, who according to his lawyer suffers from mental illness, to two and a half years in prison Wednesday for teaching from a self-published textbook containing anti-government material.
Lecturer Tieng Narith, 31, shouted in court during his 90-minute hearing—for allegedly spreading disinformation about the government—that he wanted an international trial to ensure that he received justice. He also said the proceedings were a show trial and accused court staff of being “puppets” of the Cambodian government.
Announcing a guilty verdict, presiding Judge Chhay Kong said that Tieng Narith had stoked tension by teaching from his book and accused him of insulting top government officials.
“There was no evidence [to support the book], and he used vulgar words to attack the prime minister and other dignitaries,” Chhay Kong said.
Tieng Narith, a former political science teacher at Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, was fired in August and arrested in September for teaching from his book, which links top government officials to political violence.
“He is sentenced to two years and six months counting from his detention date on Nov 6, 2006,” Chhay Kong said, referring to the date when Tieng Narith was taken to Prey Sar prison.
He also ordered the lecturer to pay a fine of $1,250, adding that he will have to spend an additional two years behind bars if he is unable to come up with the money.
Tieng Narith’s lawyer Hong Kimsuon said his client should not be punished, as he is mentally ill and had not incited anyone to commit crimes.
“He has a strong mental crisis,” Hong Kimsuon told the court.
Tieng Narith’s 55-year-old mother Kong Sophon, however, told the court that while her son was not mentally ill, he has been suffering emotional torment following his arrest. “He is scared and suffering,” she said.
The UN Center for Human Rights said the verdict was harsh.
“No one should be imprisoned for the peaceful expression of his or her views,” Country Director Margo Picken wrote in an e-mail message.
“The disinformation provision in Cambodian law, which carries prison sentences of up to three years, should be suspended and repealed,” she said.
Picken added that the UN Center is concerned at the failure to produce medical reports on Tieng Narith’s mental health, which she said were requested on several occasions by the court.