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U.S., rights groups condemn jailing of teenager in Cambodia over social media posts

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By Reuters

PHNOMPENH – The United States and human rights groups on Monday condemned the conviction of a Cambodian teenager who was sentenced to eight months in prison over messages he shared on Facebook and Telegram insulting ruling party officials.

The sentencing comes amid a broad crackdown in Cambodia on the opposition, civil society and the media that began in the run-up to a 2018 election.

Sovann Chhay, 16, who rights group say has autism spectrum disorder and is the son of a detained political opposition member and an activist, was sentenced to eight months on Monday, of which he will serve four months and 15 days in prison with the remainder of the sentence suspended.

The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy criticized the court’s decision.

“I am saddened to hear the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today sentenced a child to prison time for what appears to be politically motivated charges. How does jailing the teenage son of a opposition figure demonstrate respect for human rights?” Murphy said in a tweet.

Plang Sophal, deputy prosecutor and spokesman at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to comment on the case.

The boy was due to be released from prison this month but will remain under probation for two additional years, during which time he will be required to appear before the court whenever summoned; inform the court if he changes address; and obtain permission to leave the country, among other conditions, local rights group Licadho said.

“The conviction against 16-year-old, autistic Sovann Chhay is outrageous and unacceptable on so many levels and signifies a new low in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s witch hunt against his political opponents,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.