Rector Says Student Was Warned Against Activism

After a Khemerak University student was jailed in Phnom Penh on Saturday over a social media post calling for a “color revolution” in Cambodia, the school’s director Monday claimed that politics had “poisoned” students at his institution.

Police arrested Kong Raya, 25, at the university on Thursday after he posted a message to his Facebook page earlier this month in which he vowed to “make a color revolution to change the regime for Khmer society.”

On Saturday, Mr. Raya was charged with incitement to commit a felony and sent to Prey Sar prison to await trial. The crime carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

On Monday, Sok Touch, Khemerak University’s rector and a prominent political analyst, said he personally warned Mr. Raya about the dangers of political activism just a few days before his arrest—following complaints from teachers.

“I told him that you should not want to join in politics because some politicians just use us to do as they want, but he did not listen to me and walked away,” Mr. Touch said, adding that Mr. Raya had argued that political activism was his right.

“I know Kong Raya fell into [ideas of a] color revolution. He always argued with students in his class about political issues,” he said. “The youths in the school are now getting poisoned by political issues.”

Kin Phea, Khemerak’s vice rector, said the school’s administration cooperated with police in the hours leading up to the student’s arrest.

“I’m not sure if he is dangerous to the government or society as a whole. However, his statement or his expression is beyond the freedom of expression as considered by the government,” he said.

“Of course, the police asked us to have a copy of his biography and we of course did that for the police,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Education Ministry issued a directive banning political activism at academic institutions, saying it would fine or even shut down schools that engage in or promote political activity. At the time, critics in academia said the directive was in conflict with constitutional freedoms of expression and association.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said Monday that attempts by Mr. Touch to stop Mr. Raya from partaking in political activities at Khemerak had been a violation of his rights.

“Administrators or teachers can instruct students if they do something wrong, but if they just join in politics, then they cannot instruct them or ban them,” he said.

Mr. Sam Ath also said that schools should only aid authorities in cases where a blatant crime had been committed.

“If a student does something wrong involving a crime, the teacher or administrator should cooperate with authorities, but if this cooperation is due to opinions on political issues, that is contrary to the law,” he said.

Following Mr. Raya’s imprisonment, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said authorities pitied the student, but had to arrest him.

“We are grieving for this young man because he wanted to study, but he also believed incitement propaganda spread by a political party that wanted to take over power,” General Sopheak said on Sunday, declining to elaborate.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently ramped up his rhetoric against the opposition CNRP, calling opposition leader Sam Rainsy the “leader of the thieves” and ordering the arrest of opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour, also over a Facebook post. Mr. Sok Hour, who was arrested on August 15, was also accused by the government of trying to foment a color revolution by sharing a doctored border treaty with Vietnam.

A friend of Mr. Raya, who has worked as an activist and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from authorities, said Monday that Mr. Raya had been involved in political activism groups, but posed no threat to the government.

He said that in 2014, Mr. Raya was a member of Khmer Youth Empire, but this year started his own group, the Cambodian Students Network, which had only a handful of members and focused on human rights and land issues.

“The organization always filed complaints with human rights organizations and asked them to help the people if they faced problems,” the friend said, adding Mr. Raya did not truly intend to start a revolution.

“He just gave his opinion on Facebook,” he said.

Mr. Raya’s father, Korng Kong, said Monday that he had warned his son not to talk about color revolutions after hearing Prime Minister Hun Sen denounce those seeking to overthrow the government, but that his son had no criminal intentions.

“I wish to ask Samdech Hun Sen to release my son so he can go back to school, because he has no plan to topple the government,” Mr. Kong said.

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