A police officer is seen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on August 18, 2021. Authorities recently sentenced journalist Youn Chhiv to one year in prison. (AFP/Chhin Sothy)

Cambodia sentences journalist Youn Chhiv to 1 year in prison

Bangkok, October 1, 2021 – Cambodian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Youn Chhiv, and stop imprisoning members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, the Koh Kong Provincial Court convicted Youn Chhiv, owner of the news website Koh Kong Hot News, of incitement to cause a felony, according to news reports. The court sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine of 2 million riel (US$500), those reports said.

The charges stemmed from Youn Chhiv’s posts on Koh Kong Hot News’ Facebook page that Deputy Prosecutor Vey Phearom said caused “confusion” about the eviction of villagers in Botum Sakor National Park and the police demolition of their property on September 3, according to reports. In those posts, Youn Chhiv alleged that the police action was illegal, those reports said.

CPJ could not immediately determine whether Youn Chhiv planned to appeal the conviction. According to local news website Camboja News, the journalist had denied wrongdoing.

“Journalist Youn Chhiv’s conviction and imprisonment on trumped-up incitement charges is the latest assault on press freedom in Cambodia,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Youn Chhiv should be released immediately, all charges against him dropped, and authorities should stop harassing and imprisoning independent journalists over their coverage.”

The case began when Koh Kong Deputy Governor Sok Sothy, who led the September 3 police raids, filed a complaint against Youn Chhiv, and the prosecution was initiated on the order of Defense Minister Tea Banh, according to Reuters.

The comments mentioned in the complaint, posted on September 9 and 19, had been taken down when CPJ reviewed the outlet’s Facebook page today.

Police summoned Youn Chhiv for questioning on September 28, and he was made to write a letter of apology to Sok Sothy over the Facebook posts, according to a statement by local rights group Licadho. The statement said the case was sent to trial without a judicial investigation on the grounds that Youn Chhiv was caught in the act of committing a crime.

CPJ was unable to find contact information for the Koh Kong Provincial Court. CPJ called the Ministry of Justice in Phnom Penh and Koh Kong Hot News for comment, but no one answered.

CPJ also called the Ministry of Defense and the Koh Kong provincial administration, but no one answered.