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Kampong Chhnang Radio Owner Charged for “Incitement”

Sok Oudom, pictured at a construction site, is the owner of Rithysen radio station and a local citizen journalist in Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia. (Courtesy of Facebook)
Sok Oudom, pictured at a construction site, is the owner of Rithysen radio station and a local citizen journalist in Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia. (Courtesy of Facebook)

The Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court has charged and sent radio owner Sok Oudom to pre-trial detention on Friday, days after the Ministry of Information revoked the station’s media license for “exaggerated news reporting.”

Chhuon Sivin, a Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court spokesperson, confirmed that Sok Oudom had been charged and sent to pre-trial detention. The spokesperson added that Sok Oudom was guilty of “inciting villagers to grab military and state land for private ownership,” but provided no other details about the case.

When asked if the case was an impingement on press freedom, Chhuon Sivin did not give a direct answer.

“It is your right to say so, but the prosecutor decided to charge him like this,” he said.

Long Sitha, the prosecutor in the case, said that the radio station owner was charged under Article 495 of the Criminal Code, again refusing to divulge details of the alleged crime.

Article 495 of the Criminal Code relates to incitement to commit a felony and carries a prison sentence of six months to 2 years. The charge is often employed by prosecutors against critics of the government.

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 provincial court on Thursday.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group ADHOC in Kampong Chhnang, said the incitement charge was frequently employed by the government to silence critics.

“People asked him to report their stories and he just broadcast the stories. It is his right and freedom,” Sam Chankea said.

Sok Oudom’s wife, Nuth Sovanthou, 36, said villagers had requested the radio station owner to document their land dispute with a local military official on May 12. A day later, she said, the military official filed a complaint and Sok Oudom was arrested.

“It is very very unfair,” she said. “If he reported something wrong, why didn’t the accused asked him for an explanation? Why directly arrest him?”

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.

Sok Oudom posted stories on the Facebook page named Rithysen Radio News Station, often covering 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.

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 the same incitement charge for reporting Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments at a press conference in early April.