Facebook threat case is moved to court

By: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Nearly two years after an Interior Ministry official was first accused of threatening to kill the deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, police have finally transferred the case to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, officials have told the Post.

In December 2013, Pheng Vannak, a senior police officer in the ministry’s internal security department, allegedly sent a Facebook message to Kem Sokha containing a picture of a gun and bullets and threatening to shoot him seven times.

The CNRP called on the Ministry of Interior to take action, but it wasn’t until September 25 of this year that a seven-person police commission was created to investigate.

Hor Lina, a deputy prosecutor at the municipal court, revealed yesterday that police had forwarded the case to him.

“It was transferred to me three days ago, but until now I have not checked it yet. I will start working on his case this week,” he said.

Lina added that it was too soon to comment on whether charges would now be pressed.

“I will decide when to summon him for questioning after I have completely checked his documents, which were organised and sent [to me] by police. I will decide whether I will charge him or not charge him after I have finished questioning him.”

A senior officer in the internal security police department, who asked not to be named, yesterday confirmed the case was forwarded to the court at the end of last month.

He added that Vannak had maintained his innocence throughout the investigation “saying that someone hacked into his Facebook account and wrote those threatening messages”.

But, the source said, police had been unable to identify any other suspects.

Vannak, who has been transferred to a lower position while the investigation takes place, repeated claims of innocence to the Post on Monday.

“I have known my duty and my role very well. I have also known the laws. I knew what I should write or what I should not write and post on my Facebook,” he said. “I was not so stupid as to write those threatening messages”.

But it is not the only time the official has got in hot water over his Facebook account.

In a separate ongoing case, Vannak also stands accused of promoting “false and defamatory information” on Facebook regarding rumours of an affair between Cambodian People’s Party Senator Keo Mally and RCAF Lieutenant General Seak Socheath.

Observers yesterday welcomed the news that the Sokha case had been forwarded onto the court, but said it should have come sooner.

Analyst Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said work on the case has proceeded slowly when compared to cases in which officials from the ruling party are the alleged victims.

“I think that although the authorities have spent a long time and are late in taking action for Kem Sokha’s case, I appreciate that police” have completed the investigation, Virak said. But, he added, Cambodia’s courts generally display “political discrimination and a lack of will to find the perpetrators” in cases that involve the opposition.

Am Sam Ath, a technical coordinator with local rights group Licadho, said he had reservations that the case would be handled fairly. “We have seen that law enforcement seems to have two different standards in this country,” he said.

CNRP deputy director-general of public affairs Kem Monovithya yesterday said the party “will vigilantly monitor this process as well as the investigation of the October 26 [attack on two CNRP lawmakers] to make sure it’s not just political theater and that the perpetrators and those behind them will be held responsible”.