Ros Sokhet, publisher of privately owned newspaper ‘Cheat Khmer’, was arrested on June 25 for using ‘sensational language’ in Facebook posts critical of several government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. The posts, published on Sokhet’s personal Facebook page with less than five thousand followers, disparaged the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the lack of assistance for people in debt and the alleged misconduct of the Prime Minister’s son-in-law. The warrant issued for his arrest and questioning alleged Sokhet engaged in “incitement to provoke serious chaos in social security.”
Judge Yi Sokvouch, of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, fined Sokhet two million riel (US $500) and convicted the journalist of incitement under Article 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, according to his lawyer Sam Sokong. Sokhet has already served close to five months of this sentence. During the trial, the journalist requested leniency due to his ongoing serious heart condition, and stated he had already apologised to Prime Minister Hen.
This is the second imprisonment of a Cambodian journalist during 2020. In October, Sovann Rithy, founder of online media company TVB, was given a suspended sentence of 18 months for similar incitement charges after being arrested in April and already serving five months in jail. Sok Oudom, owner of local radio station Rithyen 99.75, is yet to receive a verdict on his case after he was arrested for reporting on a land dispute in Kampong Chham province in May.
Sokhet’s lawyer has since confirmed that Sokhet would appeal the sentence. But Sokhet’s wife is more reticent and said she would not push for an appeal without support from the human rights NGO, LICADHO.
Press freedom groups, including Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) and Cambodian Center for Independent Media, fear that these actions threaten freedom of the press by cracking down on activists who use social media to voice constructive criticism.
The IFJ said: “The arrest and sentencing of Ros Sokhet is the latest attack on press freedom and journalistic expression in Cambodia, with authorities immediately silencing political criticism and dissidence without compassion. The IFJ condemns the conviction of Sokhet and other media workers, and calls for an end to the harassment of Cambodian journalists.”