Yuon Chhiv, the owner of Koh Kong media and the publisher of Koh Kong Hot News, was released late last month after serving eight months in prison.
He was arrested in September last year and sentenced to one year in prison for inciting a crime by broadcasting false information. On April 27, he appealed, and the Preah Sihanouk Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to eight months.
‘’I did nothing wrong. I just reported the facts,” he said after his release from prison.
According to officials, Chhiv had claimed in a report that the authorities had denied villagers access to public land in Thmar Sar commune for their usage.
Koh Kong Hot News had also posted remarks on Facebook on September 9 and 10 last year alleging that deputy province governor Sok Sothy used the armed forces to evict locals and damaged their homes. After Sothy filed a complaint against Chhiv, alleging that the publication had directly attacked him on Facebook, Chhiv was arrested on the orders of the national defense minister Tea Banh.
‘’Actually, I am happy to continue to do my job as a journalist. Because I think there are many injustices and hidden stories that need journalists like us to help report to the public,” Chhiv said. “I was threatened physically several times, but I still want to do it for the sake of the public interest.”
Ith Sothoeuth, Media director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), told CamboJA that the CCIM provided legal assistance when Yuon Chhiv was arrested. ‘’I think it is regretful that a journalist was sentenced to prison when he was just doing his job. This is a problem and it is a threat to other journalists in practicing their profession,” he said.
Hour In, the provincial coordinator with rights group Licadho in Koh Kong, said that it was good news to hear that Chhiv had been released. ‘’There are many journalists here in Koh Kong, but it is hard to find one like him,” he said.
On Thursday, Try Sophal, a reporter for NICE TV, and Try Vicheika, a reporter for Hang Meas TV News, also had all accusations against them dropped by the provincial court in Kampong Thom province. Both journalists had been charged with inciting others to commit a crime.
According to CamboJA’s annual report on the state of Cambodian journalism, released last month, there were 49 incidents of harassment against 96 journalists in 2021, with 42 of those journalists held for questioning and imprisoned. Compared to the previous year, the number of such occurrences had climbed by 40 percent, with the number of journalists harassed increasing by about a third.
The same report also found that violence remains a crucial risk for journalists in practicing their profession. Among the 96 mentioned above, 38 had experienced being attacked or threatened with violence while they were in the field. Seven media outlets had their licenses revoked when the authorities claimed that they reported false information and caused chaos in society.
‘’The research shows that most of the journalists who were arrested in 2021 were charged with incitement to commit felony or extortion,” the report said.
‘’As of December 2021, at least eight journalists remain in prison for criminal charges. The ongoing imprisonment, detention, and physical threats against journalists continue to undermine the media’s role in a democratic society and strike fear in those who cover stories or cases involving powerful officials,” it also said.
Speaking on World Press Freedom Day in March, Hun Manet, the Cambodian People’s Party’s sole candidate for prime minister said that rules affecting rights relating to freedom of speech are applied evenly across society.
According to him, more than 2,000 media organizations are registered with the Information Ministry, and over 5,000 journalists are working in the Kingdom.