Khou Piseth

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Police arrested Cambodian journalist Khou Piseth in the western city of Battambang on July 14, 2021. He was charged with incitement to commit a felony under Cambodia’s penal code and “obstruction of measure enforcement” under the COVID-19 law enacted in March 2021, and is being held in pre-trial detention.

Piseth, a reporter with the local Siem Reap Tannhektar news website, was arrested 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, 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.

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

According to news reports, Piseth faces a potential combined five years in prison if convicted under both Article 495 of the penal code, which outlines charges for criminal incitement, and under Article 11 of the COVID-19 law. A provision in the law bans “obstruction of measure enforcement,” which authorities have used to suppress free speech by charging individuals who criticize the government’s vaccine policy, Human Rights Watch and other groups said in a statement on May 25.

Cambodia’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Piseth’s arrest and detention in late 2021.