Cambodian appeals eases restrictions on autistic teen son of opposition activists

A Cambodian court of appeal on Friday upheld the conviction of an autistic teenager on an incitement charge, but eased restrictions before releasing him, the boy’s mother and his attorney said.

Kak Sovanchhay, the 17-year-old son of opposition activists, was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on June 24, 2021, because of a Facebook post and voice messages in which he was critical of the government in response to someone calling his father a traitor. His father, Kak Komphear, is a jailed senior official of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP.

In November of that year, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Kak Sovanchhay to eight months in prison for incitement and insulting public officials, but credited him four-and-a-half months for time served and commuted the remainder of his sentence. The court released him just over a week later and ordered that he remain under judicial supervision for two years.

Kak Sovanchhay appealed the conviction, but it was upheld on March 14, 2022.

Seven months later, the Supreme Court ordered the municipal Court of Appeal to retry the case. During the retrial, presiding judge Suos Sam Ath upheld the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict, but ordered the teenage boy to remain under the court’s supervision with the easing of some restrictions placed upon him. 

The court now has allowed Kak Sovanchhay to receive treatment but has banned him from consuming alcohol, carrying arms, using explosive devices and associating with criminals. 

Prior to easing the restrictions, the court required him to appear at a local police station each month and receive court approval to travel abroad.

Prum Chantha, his mother, refused to accept the appeal court’s ruling and said she would likely appeal it to the Supreme Court in the near future. She said the court should drop all charges against her son, who was 16 years old at the time of his arrest, because he is autistic and because having a record could affect his prospects.

“I want the court to drop the charges at once” she said. “I do not want it to be like that because my child is young, [and] his brain is not normal.”

Defense lawyer Sam Sok Kong said he would consider filing an appeal if his client objected to the appeal court’s decision.

“The law gives the right to the accused, especially when the accused has the right to appeal for a second time, but so far we can’t speak on behalf of the client,” he said. “I am waiting to discuss with the client so see if he thinks the decision is fair or not.”

Translated by Samean Yun for RFA Khmer. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Translated by Malcolm Foster.


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