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Union leader charged for ‘fake’ border news

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Supporters of union leader Rong Chhun protested in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over the weekend after his Friday arrest on incitement charges. Heng Chivoan

Union leader charged for ‘fake’ border news

While the Ministry of Justice has justified the arrest and detention of Cambodian Confederation of Unions president and member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC), Rong Chhun, legal analysts are calling for a fair trial.

Chhun was arrested on Friday night on charges of incitement and spreading fake news about border markings – 10 days after he posted on his Facebook page about land crimes committed in Cambodia along the Vietnamese border in Tbong Khmum province.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Van Sen Visoth held Chhun in pre-trial detention on Saturday after he was charged by prosecutor Seng Heang with incitement to cause serious disorder to social security.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong said the charges fall under Article 495 of the Criminal Code.

Chhun is a former member of the national election committee of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Before his arrest, he had visited several provinces, including Ponhea Kraek district’s Trapeang Phlong commune in Tbong Khmum province.

He stated that he had visited 106 families there between border posts No 114 and 119.

Chhun wrote that residents had told his team that the demarcation of the border posts from No 114 to 119 were irregular, causing them to lose hundreds of hectares to the Vietnamese side.

He quoted a 70-year-old man saying the borderline had been gradually moved 3km into Cambodian territory.

Citing resident’s representatives, Chhun said authorities in Ponhea Kraek district prevented people from cultivating 60ha of land, which the Cambodian-Vietnamese border committee told people to stop cultivating to place border posts.

“When people went to cultivate the land, Vietnamese soldiers pushed them away about 200m. But the Cambodian authorities didn’t stop those soldiers, which is a violation of Cambodia’s sovereignty,” he wrote.

On the day he was arrested, the Border Affairs Committee of the Office of the Council of Ministers issued a three-page statement rejecting Chhun’s claim.

The Border Affairs Committee said Chhun had distributed fake news and exaggerated the facts. It said the demarcation and placement of the border posts between Cambodia and Vietnam had not resulted in any loss of land and Vietnamese troops did not push citizens 200m into Cambodian territory.

“[His statement] intentionally fabricates and disseminates fake news with malicious intent to mislead the national and international public by making baseless allegations on the government’s border work and about the loss of territory.

“It’s like allowing land encroachment from neighbouring countries to make people lose their farmland,” it said.

The committee confirmed that agreed border lines are 84 per cent complete now.

The territory acquired by the Cambodian side after the demarcation and placement of the border is State land under the control of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Authority for Border Affairs of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

The committee called on citizens not to believe and share Rong Chhun’s information, and those who shared his Facebook post may face legal action.

Ministry of Justice secretary of state Kim Santepheap said on Sunday that anyone who spreads fake news about the border case is committing an act of incitement to cause serious social unrest under Article 495 of the Criminal Code.

“Rong Chhun committed a crime by posting on his personal Facebook page fake news related to the border case, as stated in the statement of the Border Affairs Committee.

“Therefore, the implementation of legal measures against illegal activities is not uncommon for Cambodia, as well as other countries in the world.

“Legal measures for such violations will inevitably continue. Therefore, I call on those who are drowning in this crime to stop immediately and avoid facing legal action,” Santepheap said.

Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code states that incitement which causes serious turmoil in society will be punishable by six months to two years in prison and a fine of one million to four million riel ($245 to $980).

Chhun’s supporters gathered over the weekend to protest in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, demanding it release Chhun, claiming he is innocent.

“If Chhun is telling the truth, there are no grounds to accuse him of inciting and arrest him. Chhun and other Cambodians have the right to be tried by an independent and impartial court that protects human rights,” political analyst Lao Mong Hay said.

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