A Chinese journalist was set to be put on a plane and deported Thursday night after publishing an article online saying that China-donated Covid-19 vaccines were being offered for sale.
The Cambodian government began its Covid-19 vaccination campaign earlier this month with 1 million pledged doses of the Sinopharm vaccine. Just over 10,000 doses were administered as of Wednesday night, out of a target to vaccinate 10 million people in the country.
Prime Minister Hun Sen initially said he would receive the first shot of the official vaccination drive, but was ruled ineligible due to age. Amid the rollout of the Chinese-made vaccine, which has yet to be approved by the World Health Organization, a Justice Ministry spokesperson said last week that any “fake news” about vaccinations would be penalized under the country’s incitement laws.
Shen Kaidong, the publisher of Angkor Today and long-time resident of Siem Reap, posted his Chinese-language article this week. It said it was based on text messages some of his readers had received offering vaccinations for $120.
Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said in a message to journalists that the ministry “completely rejects” the story, and “condemns the person who created such exaggerated information.”
She called on authorities to take action.
Siem Reap provincial police chief Tith Narong said Shen was arrested Wednesday night.
Keo Vanthorn, director of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said officials were preparing documents to send Shen back to China on Thursday night.
“The Immigration Law indicates that the Interior Minister must expel foreigners who commit crimes in Cambodia related to national security, so the minister has the right to issue an eviction notice. That is the implementation of the law,” Vanthorn said.
When asked why the authorities did not apply the Press Law for the case, Vanthorn said briefly that he followed orders.
The Information Ministry also announced it was revoking the license of Angkor Today for disseminating false information with “malicious intent to endanger public health, [and] cause chaos and unrest in society.”
Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance, said authorities should start with an investigation and use the Press Law before taking heavy-handed action.
“First, we insist on a thorough investigation before we make the indictment,” Vy said. “Second, [we] call for the use of the Press Law to take action rather than using the Criminal Code to arrest him or removing the license too soon. It is detrimental to the freedom of the press in Cambodia.”
According to the Health Ministry’s Facebook page, the Chinese Embassy also cautioned Chinese nationals about advertisements of Covid-19 vaccines for sale, saying they should only be obtained through official channels.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)