Containers of coronavirus vaccines are seen at the Phnom Penh International Airport, in Cambodia, on March 2, 2021. Journalist Shen Kaidong was recently deported to China over his coverage of an alleged vaccination-for-money scheme. (Reuters/Cindy Liu)

Cambodia deports Chinese journalist Shen Kaidong for ‘fake news’ on COVID-19 vaccine sales

Bangkok, March 4, 2021 – Cambodian authorities should allow journalist Shen Kaidong to reenter the country and work freely, and should refrain from deporting members of the press over their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On February 24, authorities in the city of Siem Reap arrested Shen, a Chinese citizen and editor-in-chief of the Chinese-language outlet Angkor Today, and turned him over to the General Department of Immigration, which deported him to China the following day and banned him from reentering Cambodia, according to news reports.

Keo Vanthan, a spokesperson for the immigration department, said that Shen had “published fake news and it caused social chaos,” referring to a report by Angkor Today on February 23 alleging that Chinese nationals in Cambodia had been offered chances to buy shots of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to those reports.

On February 25, the Cambodian Ministry of Information also revoked Angkor Today’s license to operate in the country, those reports said.

“Cambodia’s deportation of journalist Shen Kaidong and the suppressing of his Angkor Today news outlet is a severe overreaction to a dispute over the outlet’s coverage,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Cambodian authorities must stop using flimsy ‘fake news’ charges to suppress crucial reporting on COVID-19, and should allow Shen to return to the country and work freely.”

Shen has worked as the editor of Angkor Today, a WeChat and Facebook-based news outlet, since 2015, according to those reports. The outlet’s Facebook page has about 50,000 followers.  

Government health authorities denied that the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, which is administered for free in Cambodia, is being sold, according to those reports.

CPJ emailed Cambodia’s Ministry of Information for comment, but did not immediately receive any response.