Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted a man on Friday for possessing an illegal weapon and insulting slain union leader and Sam Rainsy Party activist Chea Vichea by telephone text message.
Before going into hiding in July, shortly after the offending message was sent, Chea Vichea said the message called him a dog and said, “I want to kill you.”
But presiding Judge Bonenh Bunnary said Sunday that those words should be interpreted as an insult, not a threat.
She said she fined Men Vatana 1 million riel (about $250) under Article 63 of the criminal code, which pertains to libel and
defamation. She also sentenced him to six months in prison
for possessing bullets for an AK-47 assault rifle and a K-59 handgun.
Bonenh Bunnary said the trial turned up no evidence to tie Men Vatana to Chea Vichea’s Jan 22 slaying.
The sentence is retroactive, and the fine will go into state coffers, Bonenh Bunnary said. Chea Vichea’s relatives can still file complaints for compensation, she said.
Chea Mony, the brother of Chea Vichea and a Free Trade Union board member, said Sunday the court should sentence Men Vatana to prison for life if he really was the one who wrote the message.
But Chea Mony said he would not file a complaint against Men Vatana, because he said he does not believe the true perpetrator has been caught. “Men Vatana is just a fake person who confessed for the one who actually wrote the message,” Chea Mony said.
On Jan 30, municipal military police presented Men Vatana to reporters as the source of the death threat, the day after they presented two suspects in the killing of Chea Vichea.
Men Vatana spoke then at length, saying Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang had instructed him to issue the death threat. Eng Chhay Eang denounced the allegation as a lie. He maintained that position Sunday.
“This is just a drama. The ruling party wants to put the blame on me,” he said.
But Eng Chhay Eang said the CPP backed away from its strategy—lightly punishing Men Vatana and no longer implicating Eng Chhay Eang as doubts have surfaced about the CPP’s innocence.
“The government should find the real killer, not blame the opposition party,” Eng Chhay Eang said. “The killing and the threat were carried out by the ruling party.”