Cambodian journalist jailed for two Facebook posts critical of Hun Sen

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the European Union to toughen its sanctions against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government in Cambodia after a third journalist in three months was arrested for “inciting chaos.”

The latest victim is Ros Sokhet, the publisher of the Cheat Khmer (“Khmer Nation”) newspaper, who was arrested on 25 June on a warrant issued the previous day by the Phnom Penh municipal police Cybercrime Bureau for “incitement to provoke serious chaos in social security.”

The warrant was prompted by two Facebook posts critical of Hun Sen on 24 June. In the first, Ros Sokhet questioned the prime minister’s declared intention to name his son as his successor at the head of government. In the second, he questioned the lack of any government solution for Cambodians who are unable to pay their debts to banks as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

After an additional interrogation on 26 June, Ros Sokhet was transferred from police custody to pre-trial detention. On the same day, an information ministry spokesman said the ministry was considering rescinding Cheat Khmer’s licence although it was renewed in April without any problem. On 28 June, Ros Sokhet was finally charged with “incitement to commit a felony” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code. If convicted, he faces six months to two years in prison.

“We demand the immediate release of Ros Sokhet, whose detention for two posts critical of the prime minister shows that Phnom Penh is now adopting the methods of the worst totalitarian regimes,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Nothing is now holding back the Hun Sen clique’s headlong rush to gag dissenting voices. For this reason, we urge the EU to toughen the trade sanctions it recently imposed on the Cambodian government.”

Unrelenting crackdown

The EU announced in February that it would suspend tariff-free access on more than 1 billion dollars in Cambodian exports in retaliation for the government’s unrelenting suppression of human rights including press freedom, which RSF documented in a report in 2018.

The first victim of the past three months was Sovann Rithy, the director of the TVFB news site, who was arrested on a charge of “incitement to cause chaos” on 7 April simply for reporting a comment by Hun Sen earlier that day suggesting that the government could not help everyone whose business was affected by Covid-19 epidemic.

Sok Oudom, the owner and manager of Rithisen radio in Kampong Chhnang City, 95 km north of Phnom Penh, was arrested on the same charge of “incitement to cause chaos” on 13 May after broadcasting a report about a land conflict between the residents of a village and a local military official.

Cambodia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.