Cambodian authorities have arrested 17 people since January over social media posts about the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) that the government has branded “fake news,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
“Four of the five people who have been charged and jailed are from the outlawed main opposition party,’’ the international rights organisation said.
They face charges of incitement to commit a felony, conspiracy and spreading false information, which are infractions often levelled against opposition members who are critical of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“One of those arrested earlier this month was a 14-year-old girl, who claimed in a Facebook post that three students at her school had contracted the respiratory disease, and three people had died from the virus,’’ HRW said.
Authorities released her after the girl made a public apology.
“National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said earlier this month that five people had been arrested over virus-related posts that caused social chaos.
“It also scared the public, insulted and put blame on government leaders,’’ local news outlet VOD reported.
Deputy Asia director of HRW, Phil Robertson, said in a statement that the government should stop abusing free speech rights and “misusing” the outbreak to lock up activists and others expressing concerns about the new Coronavirus and government response.
According to the Health Ministry, Cambodia has reported 87 infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Report says this includes 52 foreign nationals and 35 Cambodians, while two patients have recovered and left hospital quarantine.
However, no deaths have been reported.