Newspaper publisher charged over social media posts3 min read

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Ros Sokhet leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court after he was questioned on June 26 regarding Facebook posts he had made earlier in the week that were critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Panha Chhorpoan
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The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 28 charged the publisher of the Khmer Nation newspaper for incitement over social media posts he made last week in which he criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen, a police official confirmed.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet on June 29 said that the defendant, Ros Sokhet, has been detained at Prey Sar Prison on charges of incitement to provoke serious social chaos.

“The court already detained him and he was sent to Prey Sar prison on Sunday,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong declined to comment, saying he was busy.

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court warrant issued on June 24 ordered the arrest and subsequent questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police’s Cybercrime Bureau for “incitement to provoke serious chaos in social security”. Sokhet, 41, was arrested the following day.

In two Facebook posts made 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 planned to 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.

Soeng Senkaruna, senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said that people are becoming less publicly critical of the government after seeing that others who question the ruling CPP are arrested.

“It is restricting critical voices because they [the government] does not want those voices to criticize their flaws,” he said.

He said he had noticed that criticism of the country’s leadership had seemingly slowed since the beginning of the year.

“If they continue to restrict freedoms like this, it will impact the reputation of the country as well as those who have said they will lead the country democratically,” Senkaruna said.

Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalist Alliance said the arrest and imprisonment of journalists and other activists since the start of the year is a clear sign that freedom of expression in Cambodia is on the decline.

“The authorities should not use the Criminal Code to penalize a person or a journalist who has just exercised his opinion by providing constructive criticism on how to reform a social issue,” he said.

“It is a warning message to other journalists and activists who are advocating for their viewpoints as well as threatening to exercise their freedom of expression in Cambodia,” Vy said.

He called on the relevant authorities to review what Sokhet posted and to examine whether someone had hacked his Facebook account.

Information Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn, said that the public is free to exercise their freedom of expression but in expressing that right, they must not limit the rights of others.

“As I have said, we have the right to exercise our opinions but that right must not affect others’ rights,” he said. “Having boundaries to the right of freedom of expression is part of the law.”

Sophorn added that the ministry is still in the process of reviewing Khmer Nation’s newspaper license.

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