After being held for more than 220 days, ever since his arrest on 13 May, Sok Oudom, the owner and manager of Rithisen radio and website in Kampong Chhnang City, 95 km north of Phnom Penh, was finally sentenced on 22 December to 20 months in prison and a fine of the equivalent of 4,000 euros on a charge of inciting the villagers to “cause chaos.”
Sok Oudom’s only crime was a Facebook livestream on 12 May showing members of a rural community trying to defend the land assigned to them within a wildlife sanctuary – land that the military wanted to take over.
Neither the army officer who filed the complaint against Sok Oudom nor two prosecution witnesses who supposedly had evidence against him attended the trial. Sok Oudom’s lawyer intends to appeal.
Following his arrest, the information ministry withdrew his radio station’s licence and blocked his website on the grounds that his reporting was exaggerated. Nonetheless, at least ten other journalists covered the same story without being harassed.
“Sok Oudom’s prolonged pre-trial detention and conviction without evidence are absurd and are designed solely to have a chilling effect on Cambodian journalists who work in an independent manner,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of the RSF's Asia-Pacific desk. “Sok Oudom has already spent too much time in prison. We call on the judges to approve his appeal and overturn this baseless conviction, which constitutes an additional obstruction to press freedom in Cambodia.”
If his conviction is upheld, Sok Oudom will be the third Cambodian journalist sentenced to imprisonment his year.
Cambodia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.