Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) speaks during a press conference in southern Cambodia's coastal Kep province on January 5, 2020. Cambodia convicted journalist Ros Sokhet for criticizing Hun Sen on November 11, 2020. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Cambodia jails journalist Ros Sokhet for criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen

Bangkok, November 13, 2020 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned the sentencing of Cambodian journalist and publisher Ros Sokhet and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Phnom Penh’s Municipal Court convicted Sokhet and handed him an 18-month prison sentence on November 11, four months after he was arrested for Facebook posts that criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, news reports said.

Sokhet, publisher of the privately owned Cheat Khmer (Khmer Nation) newspaper, was arrested on June 25 in Kamphong Chhnang province’s Toek Phos district and transferred to Phnom Penh Municipal Police’s Cybercrime Bureau, CPJ documented at the time.

He was charged with incitement for Facebook posts that criticized Hun Sen on his personal Facebook page, where he has nearly 5,000 followers and frequently posts political commentary and links to Cheat Khmer’s reporting. He accused the premier of not doing enough to help people who were in debt and alleged misconduct by Hun Sen’s son-in-law, according to news reports.

“The sentencing of journalist Ros Sokhet is Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s latest crime against the free press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “He should be released immediately and Cambodia’s harassment of journalists must stop.”

Sokhet’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said the reporter had been convicted of incitement and sentenced under Article 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, according to the reports. He was also fined two million riel (US$500), his lawyer said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Sokhet’s conviction. He is the second journalist to be convicted for incitement this year.

Sovann Rithy, founder of online news outlet TVFB, was given a suspended jail sentence on October 5 under Articles 494 and 495, according to news reports. He was released that day after spending nearly six months in prison, the reports said.

He was charged for Facebook posts that quoted Hun Sen saying that local motorcycle-taxi drivers should sell their vehicles if they went bankrupt because of the COVID-19 crisis, the reports said.

Sok Oudom, owner of the local Rithyen 99.75 FM radio station, was arrested in May on felony charges for radio reporting on a land dispute in Kampong Chham province, CPJ documented at the time. The verdict in his case is due to be announced on November 17, Voice of America reported.