Kao Piseth, a journalist for local news website Siem Reap Tannhektar(Siem Reap Breaking News), was arrested on July 14, 2021, in Battambang City, accused of incitement to disturb social security following his post on Facebook.
Police confiscated his three mobile phones, a car, and press card before he was charged with breaching Article 495 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code and Article 11 of the Covid-19 law.
The arrest came after Piseth questioned the medical assessment and use in Cambodia of the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China. The journalist also posted to social media, accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of acquiring assets in the country by “betraying the nation”.
In December 2021, the Battambang Provincial Court sentenced Piseth to two years in prison and a fine amounting to three million riel (approx. USD 750).
Piseth and his lawyer from the Cambodia Center for Independent Media (CCIM) lodged an appeal against the decision of the provincial court, which was rejected by the Battambang Appeal Court.
The implementation of Cambodia’s Covid-19 law has been criticised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, with the legislation bringing the nation into what has been described as a ‘totalitarian dictatorship’. More than a dozen human rights activists were arrested for distributing or sharing information about Covid-19 at the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
The CamboJA said: “The court decision creates restriction to freedom of expression, affects journalist freedom and access to diverted information for our people.”
The IFJ said: “The arrest of a journalist for a critical social media post violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression and press freedom in Cambodia. The IFJ condemns the decision of the court of appeal in the case against Kao Piseth and calls on the authorities to immediately drop all charges against him.