A court in Cambodia Wednesday upheld an 18-month jail sentence against a rapper convicted last year for his songs critical of the government, disappointing his supporters who say he was merely expressing himself.
Authorities arrested Kea Sokun and fellow rapper Long Puthera in September 2020 in the northwestern province of Siem Reap after they released songs that claimed that the government mishandled a border dispute with Vietnam and that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lack of leadership led to Cambodia’s economic decline.
In December, the Siem Reap Provincial Court handed Kea Sokun, 22, an 18-month jail term and Long Putheara, 17, a five-month jail term, for “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code.
The appellate court in the western province of Battambang Wednesday ruled that Kea Sokun should serve the entire 18 months, nine of which he has already served. He is set to be released in the next two months, with the remainder of the sentence to be served in suspension.
Kea Sokun’s father Phal Kea told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday that his son did not commit any crimes and the verdict is unjust.
“We thought the Appeals Court would drop the charges or reduce the prison term but instead the court upheld the verdict,” he said.
“We are so disappointed. I am sad because it is very unjust, I cannot believe the court upheld this verdict,” said Phal Kea.
He said that he is not sure whether his son will appeal the appellate court’s verdict because his son is due to be released within the next two months.
RFA was unable to reach Appeals Court Secretariat Teang Sambo for comment Wednesday.
Am Sam Ath of local rights group LICADHO told RFA that he was saddened with the court’s decision. He said Kea Sokun simply expressed himself by rapping on social issues and that is not a crime.
“All of the songs he rapped on do not provoke or incite social unrest. The court’s verdict is only to intimidate youth to prevent them from rapping,” he said.
According to a recent report by the American Bar Association (ABA), Kea Sokun’s case is part of a “larger trend” of the Cambodian government silencing dissidents and others who openly criticize it.
“While Sokun’s case raises issues concerning his rights to fair trial and freedom of expression, it is not an aberration in Cambodia. It is one of many in a recent crackdown on young activists by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).” the report said.
“In recent years, the Cambodian government has intensified its curtailment of rights and civic freedoms and rapidly escalated its attempts to close civic space. Frivolous criminal charges are used to stifle dissidents and critical voices. Although Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary body, one ruling party has dominated the political system for decades,” the ABA said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.