Cambodian journalist Ros Sokhet, publisher of the privately owned Cheat Khmer (Khmer Nation) newspaper, was arrested by police on June 25, 2020, in Kampong Chhnang province’s Toek Phos district. Since November 11, 2020, he has been serving an 18-month sentence on an incitement conviction.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet said on June 26, 2020, that Sokhet was arrested for criticizing the country’s “top leader,” Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to news reports.
On June 24, 2020, Sokhet posted criticism of Hun Sen on his personal Facebook page, where he has nearly 5,000 followers and frequently posts political commentary and links to Cheat Khmer’s reporting. In those posts, he accused the prime minister of not doing enough to help people who were in debt and called for him not to nominate his son to be the country’s next leader.
Sokhet had also recently posted criticism of the country’s police force and alleged that the government had mismanaged Cambodia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Khmer Times.
On June 28, 2020, authorities charged Sokhet with incitement under Articles 494 and 495 of the criminal code, provisions that allow for maximum two-year jail terms for convictions, according to the Khmer Times.
Following Sokhet’s arrest, Information Ministry spokesperson Meas Sophorn said that the ministry was reviewing Cheat Khmer’s newspaper license, which had been renewed on April 2, 2020, according to reports. The Information Ministry did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment on the status of the license.
On November 11, 2020, Phnom Penh’s Municipal Court convicted Sokhet on those charges and sentenced him to 18 months in prison, according to news reports. He was also fined 2 million riel (US$490), those reports said.
The American Bar Association Center for Human Rights said in a statement on February 16, 2021, that Sokhet’s conviction violated his right to the presumption of innocence and to freedom of expression.
The prosecution did not present “any evidence to show the posts would be understood to call for social disorder, that the posts might have the effect of creating social disorder, or that Mr. Sokhet had intended such effects,” the statement said, adding that the center monitored the trial as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative.
Sokhet was being held at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison in late 2021, according to Him Khortieth, advocacy and research manager at the Cambodian Journalists Alliance local press freedom group, who communicated with CPJ via email.
Cambodia’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment about Sokhet’s status and health in prison in late 2021.