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Two People Detained for Allegedly Spreading Fake News about COVID-19, One Facing Charges

A photo screenshot from a video posted by Koy Sam Ath who goes by “Tep Visal” on Facebook. The National Police arrested him for posting the video.

A woman in Siem Reap and a man in Phnom Penh were arrested on Monday for allegedly spreading fake news on Facebook about the coronavirus outbreak, with the latter being let off with a warning, but the man being sent to court to face charges.

Thai Chhor Yoeun, a Siem Reap resident, allegedly shared a Facebook post from a third party alleging that a family in the province had the coronavirus and that their children were studying in the local school, according to a report on the National Police website.

Even though she only shared the Facebook post, she was detained by Bakong district police, but later released after agreeing not to share any other fake news about the viral outbreak.

“She said she didn’t know that such dissemination could cause impact. So, [she] made an agreement,” said Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesman for the National Police.

However, Phnom Penh resident Koy Sam Ath, who goes by “Tep Visal” on Facebook, was arrested and sent to court for posting a video of himself on the social media site, where he claimed Cambodia would know if it had a coronavirus case, only if it was informed by Vietnam, using a derogatory term for the Vietnamese.

“This is lucky that the [Vietnamese] said loudly that Cambodia has Covid-19 or corona virus. If ordinary Cambodians said loudly [about this], they would probably be hunted for arrest,” he said, again unclear of what he is referring to.

According to the National Police website, Koy Sam Ath was presented before Phnom Penh Municipal Court and could be charged with “incitement to commit chaos” and could face up to two years in prison if found guilty.

Kuch Kimlong, deputy prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and Y Rin, spokesman for the court, could not be reached for comment.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of local rights group Licadho, said it was preferable for the authorities to educate people about the viral outbreak and alleviate their fears and concerns, rather than taking legal measures against them.

“What they said [on Facebook] didn’t cause any turmoil. In fact, they may not understand clearly abut COVID-19 or corona virus,” he said.

So far, there are three reported cases of the novel coronavirus in Cambodia, with only one Cambodian national infected by the virus last week. The two others are a Japanese businessman who used to work in Siem Reap and a British tourist who was on a river cruise from Vietnam.