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Court Questions Kampong Chhnang Radio Owner Over Ambiguous Charges

Sok Oudom, right, sitting next to an unidentified woman, talks about Kampong Chhnang court's handling of a criminal case during a live broadcast on “Rithysen News” via Facebook, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Courtesy of Facebook)
Sok Oudom, right, sitting next to an unidentified woman, talks about Kampong Chhnang court's handling of a criminal case during a live broadcast on “Rithysen News” via Facebook, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Courtesy of Facebook)

The Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court is questioning a local radio owner Sok Oudom after the Ministry of Information revoked the media license for his radio frequency on allegations of “exaggerated news reporting.”

The Ministry of Information on Tuesday revoked the media license for Rithysen Radio News Station on FM99.75 and the station’s website for allegedly “publishing information which is exaggerated information, contains incitement to violence, provocation to commit discrimination and provocation to cause social insecurity and chaos.”

On Wednesday, Sok Oudom was arrested by local police and questioned before being sent to the provincial court on Thursday. Long Sitha, Kampong Chhnang provincial court spokesman only said that the court was still questioning Sok Oudom as of 4:30 p.m.

Kampong Chhnang provincial police chief Khov Ly told VOA Khmer on Thursday there was a complaint against the radio station, but refused to divulge any details. He only said that Sok Oudom’s broadcasts were “incitement” for people to occupy state land at Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kampong Chhnang province.

“He is brought for questioning since he was broadcasting incitement provoking people to possess state land. It is an offense,” he said, not providing details of the news report.

Pressed for details of the arrest and police questioning, Khov Ly refused to answer any questions.

“If there was no offense, we will not bring him in for questioning. You are not a judge; why are you asking a lot?”

The license revocation marks the third media organization shut down by the government in five weeks. The Ministry of Information revoked the license for Facebook-based publications TVFB and CKVTV.

The founder of TVFB, Sovann Rithy, was arrested and sent to pre-trial detention on incitement charges for reporting Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments at a press conference in early April.

The prime minister had said that motorcycle taxi owners can sell their vehicles if they went bankrupt because the government could not help them. The police claimed Hun Sen was speaking in jest and should not have been taken seriously.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group ADHOC in Kampong Chhnang, said the arrest would affect the dissemination and access to critical news coverage in the province.

He added that Sok Oudom published stories related to land disputes and powerful people violating other citizens’ rights, adding that the radio station owner “strongly attacked” a two-star general involved in a recent land dispute.

“He always cares a lot about injustice in the society, the destruction of public property and abuses by the powerful,” he said, adding that the radio station owner was popular in the province and had faced similar accusations before.

Sok Oudom posted stories on the Facebook page named Rithysen Radio News Station, often on topics such as land disputes and clashes between the people and police officials. He also commented on court cases in the provincial court and even highlighted a local land dispute allegedly involving police officials.

Meas Sophorn, spokesperson for Ministry of Information, said the ministry was unaware of the arrest nor had it requested that Sok Oudom be arrested.

He said the media owner had not behaved with professionalism, a term often used by the government to justify similar arrests.

“We have checked their publication and the Department of Information advised them several times before revoking the license,” he added, unable to give a specific example of “incitement” in their news coverage.

The arrests are part of an ongoing government crackdown on media organizations that started in 2017. Radio broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were prevented from broadcasting their daily bulletins in August 2017, with the latter closing its in-country operations for security reasons.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper was forced to shut down in September 2017 after being presented with a contested $6.3 million tax bill. Later that year, two former Radio Free Asia journalists, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were arrested and charged with espionage, with a 2019 court trial yet to deliver a verdict.

The Phnom Penh Post newspaper was forced to sell the publication in May 2018 to a Malaysian investor with links to Prime Minister Hun Sen, after being presented with a hefty tax bill as well.