Trial set for autistic Cambodian teen whose house was stormed by nearly 20 armed officers over insult on messaging app

Sovann Chhay who's autistic is on trial

The trial for an autistic Cambodian teenager accused of insulting local government officials is set to begin Sept. 29. 

Jailed over Telegram: Kak Sovann Chhay, the 16-year-old son of two government opposition figures, was arrested for allegedly sending messages that were deemed insulting to officials from the ruling party on an app called Telegram, BBC reported. 

  • The teen reportedly got into an online argument with a pro-ruling party member living in Canada who called his father a traitor. His father was a member of the outlawed opposition group Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). 
  • An hour after the Canadian man forwarded Sovann Chhay’s messages to authorities, approximately 20 armed police officers arrived at the boy’s house. Some were carrying weapons such as AK-47s. 
  • Six officers entered the house without a warrant, handcuffed Sovann Chhay and dragged him to a vehicle. 

  • After being charged with incitement and insulting public officials, he now faces up to two years in jail if convicted. 
  • In October last year, he was also detained for two days after breaking into the CNRP’s abandoned headquarters.
  • In April, Sovann Chhay suffered a fractured skull following an attack from two unknown assailants who struck him on the head with a brick.

Runs in the family: Sovann Chhay, who barely spoke as a child, reportedly got his passion for politics from his parents. 

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  • His father, Kak Komphear, has been in jail since June last year for being a senior member of CNRP. He used to take Sovann Chhay to opposition party events, which is what started his interest in politics.
  • His mother, Prum Chantha, is a human rights activist who has been protesting for the release of her husband and other opposition members. 
  • Chantha believes that the authorities are targeting her son because she and his father are open and vocal critics of the ruling party. “They want to break my spirit and send a message to other people. They want to show that they are untouchable and if anyone dares to touch them, they will end up like me,” she said. “But I still dare to talk, express my views and protest.” 
  • Kak Komphear and his son are now among the over 150 people charged with incitement amid the Cambodian government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Iron fist: Prime Minister Hun Sen, leader of Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), has been in power for 36 years. 

  • In 2014, Sen’s party placed bans on public gatherings and deployed riot police to beat protesters and detain union leaders, according to the New York Times.
  • Cambodia officially became a one-party state in 2017 after having CNRP outlawed and suppressing any form of opposition. 
  • The arrested opposition figures are now facing a closed-door trial for allegedly plotting to overthrow the ruling party. 

United Nations (UN) experts have been calling for Sovann Chhay’s release and asking for the Cambodian government to “ensure that his human rights are protected. Children with disabilities accused of breaking the law should be treated in line with the best interests of the child, and every effort should be made to keep them out of jail.”

Featured Image via Prum Chantha

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