Phnom Penh Municipal Court sent a 30-year-old university lecturer, who is believed to suffer from mental problems, to Prey Sar prison Wednesday after charging him with disinformation, officials said.
Tieng Narith, who was fired last month for teaching his own anti-government textbook at Phnom Penh’s Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, was handcuffed and hurried into a military police vehicle after being questioned by Investigating Judge Sao Meach, as his 54-year-old mother Kong Saphorn wept outside.
“Please find justice for me,” she shouted. “My son didn’t commit anything wrong.”
Under the Untac Law, spreading disinformation carries prison sentences of between six months and three years.
Lawyers representing Tieng Narith said the government filed the complaint against him. Cambodian Center for Human Rights lawyer So In said his client, who was arrested Tuesday, had been charged by Prosecutor Ouk Savouth. He added that his client answered the judge “under the situation of having mental problems.”
In his profanity-laced book, Tieng Narith links top government officials to acts of political violence, and echoes recent statements by fugitive former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov.
Cambodian Defenders Project lawyer Hong Kimsoun also said his client may be unwell. “If he is not normal, the court should have investigated first before arresting him,” he said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he did not know who in the government had initiated the lawsuit. He added that Tieng Narith may receive a punishment reduction if he is mentally ill.
Sao Meach and Ouk Savouth both said they were too busy to speak to a reporter.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association, accused the government of violating Tieng Narith’s freedom of expression. Tieng Narith should have been invited to run corrections on false information rather than being arrested, he said.
He also said the lecturer appears to have touched a nerve. “The things that were written are the weak and sensitive parts of the government,” he said.