Kao Piseth

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Cambodian journalist Kao Piseth is serving a two-year sentence for criminal incitement and obstruction of the implementation of measures to prevent COVID-19. He was appealing his conviction at Cambodia’s Supreme Court in late 2022.

Kao Piseth, a reporter with the local Siem Reap Tannhektar news website, was arrested in the western city of Battambang on July 14, 2021, after posting messages critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on his personal Facebook account, according to news reports.

In Facebook posts, Kao Piseth asked the international community to take action against Prime Minister Hun Sen and to cut off foreign aid to the country, according to reports. His posts also questioned the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, which he claimed the government was using as a favor to China, the reports said.

Kao Piseth’s Facebook account was deleted after his arrest, the reports said, and CPJ was unable to review it.

In late 2021, he was charged and in early 2022 convicted of incitement to commit a felony under Article 495 of the penal code and Article 11 of the COVID-19 law enacted in March 2021, according to a CamboJA report.

A provision in the latter law bans “obstruction of measure enforcement,” which authorities have used to suppress free speech by charging individuals who criticize the government’s vaccine policy and COVID-19 response, Human Rights Watch and other groups said.

The Battambang Appeal Court upheld Kao Piseth’s full two-year conviction on July 5, 2022, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), a local press group assisting Kao Piseth’s legal defense, told CPJ by email. On August 19, 2022, Kao Piseth filed another appeal to the Supreme Court, Chhan Sokunthea, CCIM media development director and researcher in charge of Kao Piseth’s case, told CPJ by email.

Chhan Sokunthea said that Kao Piseth suffered from a skin condition and malnutrition due to poor prison food in late 2022.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Kao Piseth’s conviction, detention, and health in September 2022.