Cambodia: Online journalist released from jail

Online journalist Sovann Rithy, arrested in April for “incitement to cause chaos”, was released from detention on October 5. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that the remaining prison term be suspended after Rithy served almost six months of his jail term. The International Federation and its affiliate the Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) welcome the release but call the authorities to do more to ensure freedom of the press and journalist rights.

The Court spokesperson Kuch Kimlong confirmed that Sovann Rithy, who operates Facebook news outlet TVFB, had been convicted for incitement after he quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen and sentenced under Article 494 and 495 of the country’s Criminal Code.

Rithy was arrested on the evening of Tuesday, April 7 for accurately quoting Prime Minister Hun Sen who advised motorbike taxi drivers to sell their vehicles if the Covid-19 pandemic leaves them in financial ruin.In a press conference on April 7, Hun Sen said: “if motorbike-taxi drivers go bankrupt, sell your motorbikes for spending money. The government does not have the ability to help.” Rithy then quoted the statement on a Facebook post. The arrest followed by the termination of TVFB’s media licence and the closing down of the media outlet’s website.

Rithy has been named as one of 17 journalists from 14 countries who received Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award in 2020 dedicated to journalists who have suffered undue repression during coronavirus outbreak.

CAPJ said: “CAPJ welcomes the decision of the court although we also want to reiterate our call that the authorities need to ensure the freedom of the press.”

The IFJ said: “IFJ joins media freedom organisations in Cambodia to welcome the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. But the authorities should not arrest Sovann Rithy should not have been arrested and detained in the first place. IFJ urges the authorities to protect journalists’ rights and allow them to report freely.”