Journalist | Phnom Penh, Cambodia

By Mech Dara and Alex Consiglio
The Cambodia Daily

Just one day after being arrested, a Cambodian-American man was on Thursday sentenced to two years imprisonment for publicly displaying a banner declaring himself the new leader of Cambodia following the death Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Im Vannak convicted Han Visot, 51, of incitement, incitement to discriminate, and insults against public officials.

“The municipal court sentences Han Visot to two years in jail,” Judge Vannak said.

Mr. Visot was arrested Wednesday outside the Royal Palace holding a banner that claimed Prime Minister Hun Sen, along with his wife, eldest son and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, had died and that he was to be the country’s new leader.

“I wrote it because god told me to,” Mr. Visot said in the courthouse hallway before his speedy trial Thursday. “God wants me to be the leader of Cambodia because I am the only one that can talk to him and understand his message.”

Eang Sophalleth, Mr. Hun Sen’s personal assistant, confirmed Thursday that the prime minister, his family, and Mr. Kheng are alive and well.

“There is nothing wrong with them,” he said. “They are alive. Your question is so silly I shouldn’t even answer it.”

Mr. Visot practices Brahmanism, an ancient Hindu religion, and said Preah Indra, his god, visited him about two years ago with a message to return to Cambodia and lead the country.

He arrived in Cambodia on July 13 from Minnesota, where he lived with his ex-wife and two kids, he said. He left Cambodia for the U.S. about 30 years ago.

Huddled on a chair with a backpack stuffed with notebooks and clothes, Mr. Visot said Thursday his friends and family in the U.S. did not understand his mission.

“I already won the universe, so that’s why I came to Cambodia,” he said, as he opened one of the notebooks where he scribbles daily notes on battles with demons and visits with angels.

“It’s complicated, right?” said Mr. Visot, who represented himself in court Thursday.

After Mr. Visot’s arrest, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantarith said Mr. Visot would be interrogated and have his mental health assessed.

Mr. Chantarith could not be reached for comment Thursday, but, during the trial, deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok said that Mr. Visot “has good enough mental health and must bear responsibility for his actions.”

Mr. Sok provided no evidence to support his claim about Mr. Visot’s mental health.

But before the trial Mr. Visot said that about two years ago a “jealous” friend called a psychiatrist to his house in Minnesota. Mr. Visot spent the following three days in a hospital.

“They wanted me to take medication, but I don’t need medication,” he said. “The doctors don’t know what’s going on inside me. They thought I was crazy.”

Presiding Judge Vannak asked Mr. Visot during the trial to provide evidence of his god ordering him to display the banner.

“How did you get an order from the Preah Indra?” he said. “Do you have any evidence besides telling us? I do not see any evidence from you.”

Mr. Visot asked for a few minutes to communicate with his god. After staring at the ceiling, he said his god did not want to speak right now, to which the judge and deputy prosecutor both snickered.

“You are going to prison,” said Judge Vannak. “If you are not happy with the verdict, you can file to the appeal court.”

As Mr. Visot was escorted out of the courtroom, he said he did not agree with the verdict. “None of them showed up to prove that they are still alive,” he said of the officials he claimed were dead. “They didn’t show me any proof.”