Bangkok, May 19, 2020 – Cambodian authorities must immediately release journalist Sok Oudom from custody, drop any charges against him, and restore his news outlet’s operating license, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 13, authorities in Kampong Chhnang City arrested Oudom, owner of the local Rithysen 99.75 FM radio station and news website, and on May 15 the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court charged him with incitement to commit a felony, according to news reports. He is being held in pre-trial detention, according to those reports.
The charges stemmed from a May 12 news broadcast aired on the station about a local land dispute, which authorities alleged incited people to encroach on state-owned land, those news reports said. If convicted, Oudom could face up to two years in jail and a fine of four million riel ($1,000), according to reports.
On May 12, after that report was aired, the Information Ministry revoked Rithysen 99.75 FM’s media license for allegedly disseminating news that was “exaggerated,” “contains incitement to violence,” and caused “social insecurity and chaos,” according to the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America.
“Journalist Sok Oudom should be immediately released from detention and all pending charges against him dropped,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Cambodian authorities must stop treating independent journalists as enemies of the state.”
Oudom frequently reports on land disputes between local officials and farming communities, according to a statement released by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, a local nongovernmental organization. That statement said at least 12 journalists have been summoned and questioned by police for their reporting so far this year.
CPJ emailed the Cambodian Information Ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.
On April 7, Cambodian authorities arrested journalist Sovann Rithy on incitement charges over a Facebook post that quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen saying that local motorcycle-taxi drivers should sell their vehicles if they go bankrupt over the COVID-19 crisis, as CPJ documented at the time.