A 27-year-old migrant worker who used his Facebook page to threaten to “shoot the head of Sok Touch,” a prominent scholar recently tasked with researching the Vietnamese border, was provisionally charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.
Phong Seiha, who posted the threat last month along with claims that Mr. Touch was subservient to Vietnam, was apprehended in Thailand and taken to the Poipet International Checkpoint on Saturday evening. He was sent to court Monday.
“I charged Phong Seiha with threatening to kill according to Article 38 of the criminal code,” said deputy court prosecutor Sieng Sok. “We have evidence proving Phong Seiha really is guilty and I handed him to an investigating judge to continue managing the case this afternoon.”
Mr. Sok said Mr. Seiha would be jailed for between six months and two years if found guilty and would be fined between 1 million and 4 million riel (about $250 to $1,000).
Mr. Seiha said in an interview inside the court that he was working in Thailand to support his wife and 4-year-old daughter at the time that he made the post, which featured an image of a pistol and bullets along with the threat to Mr. Touch.
“I realized authorities were investigating me when I saw two Cambodian police visit the construction site with another two Thai police on Saturday at about 9 a.m. and put me in handcuffs and transport me to a police station,” he said.
The police brought him to Poipet by 6 p.m. that evening, he said, and then transferred him to the Cambodian side of the border, and then on to the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh for questioning.
Mr. Seiha denied having any real intention of shooting Mr. Touch, but said he regretted his actions nonetheless.
“I wrote on Facebook, but I had no intent to do the killing,” Mr. Seiha said. “I am grieving my stupid actions because I did not know that for writing I would get jail.”
“I wrote on Facebook because I fell to the cheating of some politicians,” Mr. Seiha said, naming opposition lawmaker Um Sam An. “I wish to appeal to people to stay away from writing on Facebook like me, as it is useless for us.”
Mr. Touch has publicly disagreed with Mr. Sam An’s claims that the CPP government has used incorrect maps in its demarcation of the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.
Mr. Sam An is currently touring the U.S. to visit opposition supporters, and has said he would not be surprised if he is also arrested for his border activism upon his return.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that Mr. Seiha’s claims that Mr. Sam An’s Facebook posts spurred him to make a death threat against Mr. Touch were not reasonable.
“We do not instruct anyone to do this,” Mr. Sovann said.
“We condemn violence and intimidation, and we have since the beginning urged the government to investigate, independently and neutrally, anyone who commits such crimes.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)