Cambodia: Journalist jailed for one year over disinformation charge

Youn Chhiv, journalist and owner of website Koh Kong Hot News, was sentenced to a years imprisonment on September 30 for incitement under Cambodia’s Criminal Code, after reporting on a government land dispute. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) condemn the imprisonment and intimidation of Youn Chhiv under the Criminal Code and call for the immediate cessation of all charges against him.

Koh Kong journalist Youn Chhiv. Credit: Facebook

The journalist was charged with incitement to cause a felony over publishing alleged misinformation about a land dispute at Botum Sakor National Park. After two days of police questioning without a lawyer, the Chhiv was sentenced to one year in prison under Cambodia’s Criminal Code.

Chhiv claimed that authorities were unlawfully evicting citizens from land they had both farmed and inhabited for years, in direct contravention of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call late last year to grant land titles to those who had long-standing claims on state land. According to Vey Pherom, deputy prosecutor at the provincial court in Koh Kong, Chhiv admitted that the above claims were false. 

In a leaked audio recording, a voice, identified as Defence Minister Tea Banh, can be heard instructing Koh Kong officials and state media to act against Chhiv. “[We] urgently need to discuss with the media in the province and attack him first, directly, with his name,” it says. There have been multiple government-aligned media outlets that have reported on Bahn’s instructions, condemning Chhiv’s reports as baseless.

Provincial reporter in Koh Kong, Sok Savan said that the case had been kept extremely confidential, and only family members were admitted into the courtroom. Savan indicated that authorities ought to have used the Press Law, not the Criminal Code, or allowed Chhiv to apologise publicly and remove the videos. “This case is irregular and inappropriate. In a democratic country, when a journalist covers the news for the public interest and society, they should not be punished or imprisoned,” Savan said.

The CamboJA said, “We call on the Cambodian court to use press law for all cases related to journalists. The actions against Yuon Chhiv have put more pressure on the work of independent journalists and reporting on land conflict.”

The IFJ said, “The Cambodian’s government use of Criminal Code in the case of Youn Chhiv is yet another attempt to intimate and persecute journalists for their reporting. Journalism is not a crime. The IFJ condemns intimidatory acts that work to undermine journalistic independence and press freedom.”

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