The publisher of the Khmer Nation newspaper was arrested on June 25 for criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen in a post he made on social media, which officials have said are incitement to cause chaos.
According to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court warrant issued on June 24, Ros Sokhet, 41, was ordered to be arrested and questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police’s Cybercrime Bureau for “incitement to provoke serious chaos in social security”. As of Friday afternoon, his questioning was still underway, court officials said.
In two Facebook post on his personal account on June 24, Sokhet had been critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen. In one post, he alleged that Hun Sen is not offering solutions for people who are struggling to pay off debt to banks. In another post, he was critical of the prime minister’s remarks earlier this week saying that he would hand over the CPP to his eldest son, Hun Manet.
“Hun Sen will lose everything if he still wants to nominate his son as Prime Minister! Vietnam does not support Hun Manet!” one of the posts said.
Khov Ly, Kampong Chhnang provincial police chief, said on June 26 that Ros Sokhet was arrested in the province’s Toek Phos district and was sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Police for questioning.
“Do not ask for so many reasons,” he said when asked to provide more information on Sokhet’s alleged crime. “Police arrested him because he has committed an offense.”
“Are you a judge? Is that why you’re asking me to give details of the case?” he said, before hanging up the phone.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet confirmed June 26 that Sokhet had been arrested following the court warrant to question him for incitement after he had criticized a top leader on Facebook.
“He committed a crime, which was incitement to provoke social insecurity by criticizing the top leader [Prime Minister Hun Sen]” he said.
Information Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn on June 26 said that the ministry was in the process of reviewing Khmer Nation’s license in line with court procedure.
“His Khmer Nation newspaper license is still valid,” he said, adding that Sokhet had renewed the license for Khmer Nation newspaper on April 2, 2020.
“The ministry is reviewing that case [whether to revoke the license] because it is part of the process of the court’s procedure,” Sophorn said.
“He made posts on his own Facebook account that were meant to affect the honor and dignity of an individual, so he has to face the law,” he said.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said that freedom of expression has been restricted, especially with regard to opinions posted on social media.
“They should make a request for more information regarding what he has published because he is a journalist,” he said. “Taking legal action against a journalist restricts the freedom to right of expression.”
He said there had been dozens of arrests lately of political activists and journalists who had dared to question those in power.
“Exercising the right to freedom of expression is under suffering restrictive by the government,” he said.
May Tithara, Cambodian Journalist Alliance’s board member on June 26, called on the relevant officials to thoroughly investigate before making arrests over comments and opinions posted on Facebook.
“We are concerned it will be intimidating to other journalists and that they will be afraid to write stories that would affect social security, because we have seen many arrests of reporters,” Tithara said. “Freedom of the press has been greatly restricted, especially in the era of social media.”
He pointed to the case in April of Sovann Rithy, the director of online news outlet TVFB, who was arrested for reporting on advice from Prime Minister Hun Sen to motorbike taxi drivers, telling them to sell their vehicles if the coronavirus crisis leaves them broke.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement after the arrest of Rithy demanding his release and saying that “Imprisoning a journalist for quoting a statement by the prime minister word for word is more than absurd.”
In 2009, the municipal court sentenced Sokhet to two years in prison after convicting him of disseminating disinformation for sending disparaging text messages to media personality Soy Sopheap, the publisher of Deum Ampil newspaper.
At the time, Sopheap, a CTN news anchor and the publisher of Deum Ampil, who is well known for his close relationship with the government, filed a complaint seeking the arrest of an unknown person who had sent him three text messages he claimed were threatening. Sokhet served about one year in prison.
This year, several journalists have been arrested and questioned for disseminating information that the government has deemed as incitement.
Sok Oudom, the owner of the radio station Rithysen, was charged in May for “incitement to commit felonies” after broadcasting false news over a land dispute.
In a separate case, the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court summoned a local television journalist for questioning after an official alleged he had committed “incitement” for spreading disinformation in a report on the clearing of land at Ratanakkiri Airport.
Two journalists were also questioned in Banteay Meanchey province, related to their reporting on a land dispute involving a local tycoon.