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Cambodia jails pro-democracy advocate for Facebook post calling for regime change

Cambodia's regime fears the power social media has to spark revolution, so it has begun cracking down. At the same time, Prime Minister Hun Sen is trying to use social media, including Facebook, to his advantage.

Pro-democracy advocate Kong Raya, wearing an orange jump suit, is held by the arm and escorted in court by a Cambodian police officer wearing a helmet, and wearing military fatigue.

Kong Raya is escorted by police as he arrives at the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh

A Cambodian court has sentenced a student to 18 months in jail after calling for a 'color revolution' in the country - a reference to the various pro-democracy revolutions of a decade ago.

Kong Raya,

a 25-year-old anti-government activist, was arrested last August

shortly after his controversial post appeared in the southeast Asian country.

Hun Sen Premierminister Kambodscha Dezember 2014

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

Raya denounced the ruling but said he wasn't surprised by it, and vowed to appeal.

"There's nothing to be surprised about. This is how the court works," he said, adding "It is not only unjust for me, but also for all Cambodian people."

He also wrote on Facebook that he is willing to go to prison or die for his cause. Although how he intended to pursue it is unclear, and his call failed to garner public support.

Rights groups also criticized the ruling.

"It is a threat to those who want to make their voice heard" through social media, Am Sam Ath of local rights group Licadho told reporters. "It makes it harder for the youth and students to express their opinions."

Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said the sentencing was a "clear message" to Facebook users, who numbered over 5 million, or 34 per cent of the population in 2015, according to USAID.

"This particular case of Kong Raya could generate concern among Facebook users on their possible consequences for expressing political opinions or personal views on controversial issues, especially from now leading up to the elections in 2017 and 2018," he said.

Cambodia's 'vulgar regime'

His Facebook post also called on Cambodians to "change the vulgar regime" of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 30 years.

Watch video 01:17

Cambodia's protesters return to work

The prime minister's People's Party is less popular with the younger generation than their older counterparts. As a result the regime is cracking down on voices of dissent, especially on social media.

Another 25-year-old man was arrested and charged

with issuing death threats to Hun Sen in a Facebook post in January.

And

a Cambodian opposition senator faces up to 17 years in jail

after a court accused him of posting a disputed document on Facebook about the country's border with Vietnam.

Despite the government's crackdown on dissent via social media Hun Sen has, himself, become a late convert to the medium.

Kambodscha Prinzessin Thailand Maha Chakri Sirindhorn & Premierminister Hun Sen

PM Hun Sen with Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn

He launched a new website and mobile app earlier this year, in an attempt to engage the public, especially young voters, many of whom support the opposition. He has also embraced Facebook.

The prime minister says he is open to constructive criticism but has warned social media users who insult him that they can be easily traced.

bik/jil (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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