Siem Reap provincial police have arrested a man and sent him to court for allegedly posting fake news on social media about the coronavirus outbreak, with Interior Minister Sar Kheng on the same day defending the arrests as an attempt to prevent chaos in society.
Siem Reap police arrested Phut Thona on Wednesday and sent him to provincial court for posting fake news on Facebook. The police refused to divulge what information the man posted, only that they had enough evidence to charge him based on Article 425 of the Criminal Code for spreading “false information.”
Huot Sothy, a deputy Siem Reap provincial police chief, said the police had been monitoring Phut Thona’s Facebook account, though not detailing why the man was under surveillance. He added that after monitoring Phut Thona’s social media account for five days they had enough evidence to arrest the man.
“We traced him for long time. We collected enough information and evidence. And we build the case to send him to the court,” Huot Vuthy said, adding that Phut Thona had been sent to pre-trial detention by the provincial prosecutor.
A review of Phut Thona’s Facebook account reveals that he had shared two videos last week where a narrator said it took the Vietnamese to inform Cambodian officials about a Japanese man who had tested positive for the virus.
The reference is to a Japanese man who had boarded a flight from Siem Reap ten days ago, with a layover in Ho Chi Minh City, before testing positive in Nagoya, Japan. Again, it was unclear if these videos resulted in Phut Thona’s arrest.
Two other Cambodians were arrested earlier this week, with one of them, a Phnom Penh resident, preliminarily charged for “incitement.” The Phnom Penh resident had also spoken about Vietnam informing Cambodia about COVID-19 cases, additionally using a derogatory term for the Vietnamese.
At a meeting in Prey Veng province, Sar Kheng on Thursday said the arrests were not a violation of a citizen’s right to freedom of expression, but an attempt to quell any attempts to incite chaos in society.
He said suggestions to educate such people posting fake news was not always effective.
“No matter what we say, they don’t listen to us. If they don’t want to listen, they will continue to behave like that,” he said at a provincial congress.