The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia will arrive for her second fact-finding mission today, following the U.N.’s censure of the government over the widely-criticized conviction of a political science student for calling for a “color revolution” on Facebook.
Kong Raya was convicted of incitement to commit a felony last week for taking to his Facebook page last year to ask if anyone would “dare to make a color revolution with me?” The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to a year-and-a-half in prison in a move rights groups rebuked as a heavy-handed attempt to stifle online criticism of the government in the leadup to commune and national elections.
In a statement on Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Office said Mr. Raya was wrongly convicted for expressing an opinion.
“Freedom of expression is the right of all citizens, and an important feature of a genuine democracy,” the office’s acting regional representative, Laurent Meillan, was quoted as saying. “For someone to face criminal charges over exercising this right, particularly in what is essentially a personal area, is a clear indication of the diminishing democratic space in Cambodia.”
“In Cambodia, there are domestic and international laws that protect the rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” he said. “These rights are entrenched in Cambodia’s Constitution and should be promoted and respected by law enforcement officials and the judiciary alike.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin declined to comment on Mr. Raya’s case specifically or explain why a call for a “color revolution”—usually a reference to regime change via peaceful mass protest—amounted to incitement to commit a felony.
“In general…the freedom of expression in Cambodia is protected,” he said. “But there should also be a limit that you cannot express an opinion that is beyond the law.”
Mr. Raya has said he plans to appeal the verdict.
The U.N.’s critique of the case came a day after Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, announced her second fact-finding mission to the country. A statement issued Thursday said Ms. Smith will use the visit, scheduled to end on the 31st, to focus on the rights of women and indigenous people.
It will be the U.K.-based professor’s second mission to Cambodia since taking up the U.N. post in March 2015. At the end of her first mission in September, she said that building Cambodia into a stable democracy would depend on creating independent institutions, the judiciary in particular.
Cambodia’s courts are widely considered among the most corrupt institutions in the country, tethered to the office of the long-ruling prime minister, Hun Sen.
Cambodia has had five prior human rights envoys assigned by the U.N. since 1993. Most of them gradually fell out of favor with the government toward the end of their assignments amid their mounting criticism of the regime.
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