Human Rights Watch Appeals to the Cambodian authorities to Release Sovann Rithy of TVFB

Sovann Rithy, CEO of TVFB, arrested on April 7 after posting a quote from Prime Minister Hun Sen speech on Facebook, faces charges of “inciting to commit crimes.” Photo Phnom Penh municipal police.

He is in detention for having quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen on his digital media network

PHNOM PENH--Human Rights Watch on Friday (April 10) asked the Cambodian authorities to release Sovann Rithy, CEO of the digital media network TVFB, and to reinstate his website’s media license. 

Rithy was arrested on April 7 for quoting in a Facebook post Prime Minister Hun Sen who had said in a speech: “If a mototaxi driver faces bankruptcy, they will have to sell their motorbikes to survive, as the government has no ability to help.” 

The Cambodian authorities said that Hun Sen was only joking and that the quote was not supposed to be taken seriously. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court Thursday (April 9) ordered the detention of Rithy at the Police Judiciary prison for, according to the detention letter, “Inciting to commit crimes.” 

“Even in Hun Sen’s Cambodia, arresting a journalist for quoting the prime minister marks a new low for press freedom,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, said Friday. “The government should immediately release Rithy and drop the bogus charges against him and others detained for expressing their opinions or fears about COVID-19.”

Following Rithy’s arrest, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith announced the cancellation of all TVFB media licenses, saying that the media had spread information that may incite offensive behavior and that, by doing so, threatened to undermine security, social order and security, according to a ministry statement issued on April 8.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asked the authorities to release Rithy and to reinstate his website’s media license.  “Imprisoning a journalist for quoting a statement by the prime minister word for word is more than absurd,” Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said on April 8. “The Covid-19 crisis must not be used as pretext for getting rid of journalists who do not blindly toe the government line.” 

As of March 26, the Cambodian human-rights NGO LICADHO had recorded 24 cases of Cambodian citizens being detained for “spreading fake news” since the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began. 

According to Article 495 of the Cambodian Penal Code, “inciting to commit crimes” may be punishable by six months to two years of imprisonment and 1 to 4 million riels ($250 to $1,000) in fines.

 


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