On May 13, 2020, authorities in Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia, arrested Sok Oudom, owner of local news radio station and website Rithysen 99.75 FM. He was arrested after reporting on a citizens’ protest in front of the Chieb Commune Hall in Kampong Chhnang Province on May 12, 2020. Two days after his arrest, he was charged by the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court of First Instance with incitement to commit a felony under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code.
After progressing through the necessary investigative stages, Sok Oudom’s trial was held as a single-day public hearing on November 3, 2020. Over six weeks later, the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court of First Instance publicized its judgment whereby it found Sok Oudom guilty of incitement to commit a felony pursuant to Article 495 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code on December 22, 2020. He was sentenced to twenty months in prison and ordered to pay 20 million Khmer Riel (approximately USD $4,933) in compensation to Nou Samrith, a high-ranked official in the Cambodian military in Kampong Chhnang Province. As of the time of writing, Sok Oudom remains imprisoned at Kampong Chhnang Provincial Prison. Taking into account time served on pre-trial detention, his sentence will conclude in January 2022. Sok Oudom and his lawyers have since filed an appeal to the court’s verdict.
While the case is ongoing and an appeal could overturn Sok Oudom’s conviction, this report analyzes the issues relating to arrest, pre-trial, and trial of the case. This report recommends that Sok Oudom’s conviction be overturned and that he be released from prison. This report also takes Sok Oudom’s case as an example to assess the kind of challenges Cambodian human rights defenders face when they are charged with criminal incitement under Cambodia’s Criminal Code. This report recommends amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly expand the information required to be included in written judgments. This report also recommends amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and Criminal Code to prevent future misuse of the unacceptably vague and broad language of the incitement offenses. Article 495 and its companion Article 494 should be repealed or alternatively redrafted to include a permissible and clear definition of the prohibited conduct, including by eliminating or redrafting the vaguely worded provision in Article 495- that prohibits incitement to “disturb social security.”