Sovann Rithy, the director of the TVFB news site, was arrested by the Phnom Penh municipal police yesterday evening on a charge of “incitement to cause chaos and harm social security” under article 495 of the criminal code, police chief Sar Theth said.
His crime was to have reported a comment about the economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis that the prime minister made during a press conference earlier in the day. As Sovann Rithy accurately reported in a Facebook post, Hun Sen said: “If motorbike-taxi drivers go bankrupt, sell your motorbikes for spending money. The government does not have the ability to help.”
The information ministry reacted by ordering the revocation of TVFB’s media licence on the grounds that its editor had “selected” the prime minister’s quote. Sovann Rithy is due to appear before a municipal court tomorrow.
“We call on the Cambodian justice system to put an end to this utterly Kafkaesque case by releasing Sovann Rithy at once, and we call on the government to reinstate TVFB’s media licence,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Imprisoning a journalist for quoting a statement by the prime minister word for word is more than absurd. The Covid-19 crisis must not be used as pretext for getting rid of journalists who do not blindly toe the government line.”
Cambodia is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.