Police officers are seen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on January 16, 2020. Journalist Ros Sokhet was recently detained and charged with incitement. (Reuters/Samrang Pring)

Cambodian journalist Ros Sokhet detained, charged with incitement

Bangkok, June 30, 2020 — Cambodian authorities should immediately release journalist Ros Sokhet and drop all pending charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 25, police in Kampong Chhnang province’s Toek Phos district arrested Sokhet, publisher of the privately owned Cheat Khmer (Khmer Nation) newspaper, and then transferred him to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police’s Cybercrime Bureau for allegedly committing “incitement to provoke serious chaos in social security,” according to local news website CamboJA News.

On June 28, he was charged with incitement to commit a felony under Articles 494 and 495 of the criminal code, provisions that allow for maximum two-year jail terms for convictions, the Khmer Times reported.

Sokhet will be held at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison pending trial, according to the Khmer Times.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet said on June 26 that Sokhet was arrested for criticizing the country’s “top leader,” Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to CamboJA News.

“Authorities must immediately release journalist Ros Sokhet and drop all pending charges against him,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government must stop using bogus criminal charges to stifle voices of dissent, and allow the Cambodian press to freely cover and comment on the news.”

On June 24, Sokhet posted criticism of Hun Sen on his personal Facebook page, where he frequently posts political commentary and links to Cheat Khmer’s reporting.

In those posts, he accused the prime minister of not doing enough to help people who were in debt, and called for him not to nominate his son to be the country’s next leader.

Sokhet had also recently posted criticism of the country’s police force and alleged that the government had mismanaged Cambodia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Khmer Times.

Meas Sophorn, an Information Ministry spokesperson, said that the ministry is reviewing Cheat Khmer’s newspaper license, which was renewed on April 2, according to reports.

CPJ emailed the Information Ministry requesting comment, but did not immediately receive any reply. 

Sokhet is the third Cambodian journalist to be detained on incitement charges since April. 

On April 7, police arrested journalist Sovann Rithy on incitement charges over a Facebook post that quoted Hun Sen saying that local motorcycle-taxi drivers should sell their vehicles if they went bankrupt over the COVID-19 crisis, as CPJ documented at the time.

On May 13, authorities arrested journalist Sok Oudom and later charged him with incitement to commit a felony for his radio reporting on a land dispute in Kampong Chhnang province, as CPJ documented.