A university student arrested last year over a Facebook post calling for a “color revolution” told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday that he regretted his words, while a prosecutor argued that his comments had already caused “turmoil.”
Kong Raya, a 25-year-old political science student, was arrested by police from the Interior Ministry’s central security department when he showed up for class at Khemarak University on the afternoon of August 21. He was charged with incitement to commit a felony the next day over the Facebook post, which he had written two weeks earlier.
Although in September Mr. Raya insisted that the government had misunderstood the meaning of “color revolution”—a term almost exclusively used to describe non-violent demonstrations—the student said during his trial on Friday that six months in Prey Sar prison had given him time to reflect.
“I realize the mistake I made, without having a clear understanding of the meaning of the term ‘color revolution,’” he said, maintaining that he had been unaware, at the time, that his words could have been interpreted as a call to arms.
“I wrote on my Facebook that I thought a color revolution would be a good way to change our society,” he said. “I wrote the words ‘color revolution’ on my Facebook page because I wanted to express my feelings and my ideas; I never expected others to join me.”
Deputy prosecutor Srey Makney, however, said that the damage had already been done.
“The act of the accused caused serious turmoil to social security and affected public order,” he said. He offered no examples of the turmoil allegedly caused by Mr. Raya.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that because Mr. Raya was an adult, he could not claim ignorance of the potential consequences of his actions.
“It’s not the freedom of expression; it’s a threat to national security,” said Mr. Siphan.
Mr. Siphan said the tumultuous political climate at the time that Mr. Raya made his revolutionary appeal —particularly border disputes brought to the fore of public debate by the opposition CNRP—had to be taken into account.
“It starts from the non-violent demonstration, but the people then disrupt public order,” he said. “That means it was the wrong place and the wrong time.”
A verdict is set to be handed down on March 15. If convicted, Mr. Raya faces up to three years in prison.
In a speech to the country’s security forces in July, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that all potential color revolutions must be thwarted, according to a statement released by the Council of Ministers.
“More importantly, Hun Sen asked the armed forces to ensure that a ‘color revolution’ cannot take place in Cambodia,” the statement said. “Under any conditions, eliminate [the revolution] to protect the legitimate government.”
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)
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