Cambodia jails news site owner for 1 year over false posts

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PHNOM PENH, Sept 30 (Reuters) - A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced the owner of a news website to a year in prison for incitement to cause a felony, a prosecutor said, for posting disinformation about a land dispute at a national park.

Youn Chhiv, who ran the Koh Kong Hot News website, had "posted comments to cause confusion" on Facebook, said Vey Phearom, deputy prosecutor at the provincial court in Koh Kong.

The journalist, he said, had admitted to falsely claiming that a Sept. 3 eviction by police of villagers from national park land was unlawful and the land had been awarded to them by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

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Vey Phearom told Reuters the judge started the trial the moment Youn Chhiv reported for a summons, in a case that was initiated at the order of Defence Minister Tea Banh, a Koh Kong native.

Neither Tea Banh nor Youn Chhiv's lawyer could be reached for comment on Thursday. Staff of the news site were not immediately available for comment.

The imprisonment comes at a time when human rights groups have accused the government of using the judiciary to discourage dissent through harsh punishments.

Ith Sothoeut, director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said the Koh Kong case was intended to send a message.

"The best solution is that a request should be made to run a correction when a report is false, not using a criminal code against journalists which sends an intimidating message and fear to others," he said.

The Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association recorded 35 cases of harassment against 72 journalists in 2020, with imprisonment and violence the most common violations.

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Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty

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