Police officers are seen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on January 16, 2020. Authorities recently convicted journalist Sok Oudom of incitement and sentenced him to 20 months in prison. (Reuters/Samrang Pring)

Cambodia sentences journalist Sok Oudom to 20 months in prison

Bangkok, December 22, 2020 – Cambodian authorities should not contest journalist Sok Oudom’s appeal and should ensure that journalists do not face prison time for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Today, the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court convicted Sok Oudom of broadcasting false news with intent to cause incitement, and ordered him to be imprisoned for 20 months and to pay a 20 million riel ($4,954) fine, according to a report by CamboJA, a news website run by the Cambodian Journalists Alliance, a local press freedom group.

Sok Oudom, owner of the local Rithysen 99.75 FM radio station and news website, had been held at the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Prison in pretrial detention since May 13, according to CPJ research and a statement emailed to CPJ by the Cambodian Journalists Alliance. That statement said that the journalist plans to appeal today’s verdict.

“Cambodian journalist Sok Oudom’s conviction and imprisonment on bogus incitement charges show that members of the press are not safe to report freely under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s authoritarian government,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Sok Oudom should be released immediately, and all charges against him dropped.”

The charges stem from Sok Oudom’s May 12 reporting on a land dispute involving the military in Kampong Chhnang province, which authorities alleged constituted criminal incitement, according to CamboJA and CPJ’s research. During the trial, Sok Oudom denied that his reporting aimed to incite villagers against the military and to illegally occupy land, according to news reports.   

The Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on the journalist’s conviction.

Sok Oudom is at least the third journalist to be jailed on incitement charges in Cambodia this year, CPJ has documented.