Jailed Journalist Slapped With Incitement, Covid-19 Law Charges

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Kao Piseth in a photo from March 2019 and posted on his Facebook page.
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A journalist working for Siem Reap Breaking News and arrested on Wednesday was charged with incitement and violations of the Covid-19 Law, the latter punishable by up to three years in prison.

Kouv Piseth, 32, was arrested by provincial military police in Battambang city on Wednesday for alleged incitement. The military police said the arrest was linked to Facebook posts from Piseth, but did not specify exactly what the journalist had said or done on the social media platform to warrant the arrest.

Duong Saron, a spokesperson for the Battambang court prosecutor’s office, confirmed on Friday that Piseth has been charged with incitement, under Article 495 of Criminal Code, as well as Article 11 of the controversial Covid-19 law for “obstruction of measure enforcement.”

While incitement carries up to two years in prison, the Covid-19 law violation carries a six-month to three-year prison sentence for intentionally obstructing or deterring the implementation of measures taken to curb the spread of the virus. It also carries a potential fine of about $500 to $2,500.

Chea Chanreaksmey, a spokesperson for the Battambang Provincial Court, did not say exactly how Piseth obstructed Covid-19 measures.

“Regarding the case, the investigating judge decided to place him in pretrial detention yesterday. Regarding the crime, I did not get more detail about the charges because it is in the process of investigation,” Chanreaksmey said.

In a June 27 Facebook post, Piseth questioned whether Chinese vaccines had been evaluated by the World Health Organization and if the vaccines should be used in Cambodia.

“Have the Chinese vaccines been evaluated by the WHO yet? If it has not, it should not be brought to inject because it has not been recognized,” the post said.

In May and June, the WHO approved the emergency use of the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. The Cambodian government started using both vaccines before their formal approval. 

Piseth had other Facebook posts accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of acquiring assets in the country by betraying the nation — an accompanying image has mansions and arrows pointing to forests, a gold mine, an island and other resources.

Rights groups have criticized the Covid-19 Law for being broad and for having severe prison sentences for violations. The incitement charge has been used by the judiciary as a catchall to prosecute any expression of dissent.

Phnom Penh police said last month that 11 people had been charged and jailed in the city under the law at the time, mostly for obstructing the implementation of lockdown rules.

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