Ex-CNRP official out of jail

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former CNRP district official Ban Samphy has been released after serving a jail term for insulting the King. Photo supplied

Ban Samphy, a former Siem Reap provincial official of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was released from prison on Friday, but his family and defence lawyer continue to maintain that his punishment was unjust.

Samphy, a 70-year-old barber from Ponleu Preah Phos village in Chi Kraeng district’s Kampong Kdei commune, was detained on May 20 last year for insulting King Norodom Sihamoni, thus violating the lese majeste law.

He was ruled to have shared an offensive photograph of the King on social media. The picture depicted Prime Minister Hun Sen, first lady Bun Rany and the King in a car, accompanied by a message insulting the King.

On October 4, Siem Reap Provincial Court sentenced him to one year in prison, with five months suspended.

However, Samphy’s release – due on December 20 – was delayed after a deputy prosecutor at the provincial court filed a complaint to the upper court seeking heavier punishment. His prison time was then increased from seven months to 10.

Ang Vong Pheak, Samphy’s daughter, told The Post on Sunday that she was delighted her father had been released because what he had done did not merit such a punishment.

More than 400 Facebook users had shared the same post, she said, but no one else had been arrested.

“I really regret that they arrested and detained my father. I don’t know what to do. It was really unjust for him because people are always sharing offbeat posts. Nothing ever happens to them."

“However, when my father shared one, it was declared illegal. I don’t know the story behind it. I don’t know if he’ll return to politics in the future,” Vong Pheak said.

Sam Titseyha, Samphy’s defence lawyer, said on Sunday: “I think his punishment was too severe because, if we look at his offence, it did not negatively influence society or cause public unrest. He should only be censured and made to sign a contract promising not to do it again.”

Ream Chan Mony, a deputy prosecutor at Siem Reap Provincial Court, said it was the Appeal Court that issued the letter of release after Samphy had completed the necessary procedures.

At the time of his arrest, Samphy said he shared the post after seeing it on another Facebook account belonging to “Khmer Thatcher”.

“He said he was angry with the King, but agreed he was wrong to have shared the post. He said [he did so] only because he was angry,” said district police chief Sok Sotheavuth at the time.

Samphy’s was the second high-profile lese majeste case last year, following the government’s March 2018 amendment to the law which criminalised any “word, gesture, writing, picture or other media which affects the dignity of the individual [the King]”.

In May, a 50-year-old principal at Prey Tahou Primary School in Kampong Thom province’s Stung Sen district became the first person to fall foul of the new law.

Kheang Navy was arrested for comments he made on Facebook accusing the King of bearing responsibility for the dissolution of the CNRP.

In December, a local police officer said Navy had been “released and begun teaching again”.