Debevoise and Clooney Foundation Seek Justice for Imprisoned Cambodian Journalist Ros Sokhet

22 June 2021

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has partnered with pro bono client the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) to file a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, on behalf of imprisoned Cambodian journalist Ros Sokhet.  The complaint argues that Mr. Sokhet’s detention is arbitrary under international human rights law and requests that he be immediately released, with charges dropped, and appropriate reparations.

Mr. Sokhet is an independent journalist whose reporting has been critical of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government.  In June 2020, Mr. Sokhet was arrested by the Cambodian police and charged with ‘incitement to disrupt social order’ on the basis of Facebook posts that alleged political misconduct by the government.  After spending over four months in pretrial detention, and following a trial that lasted approximately 90 minutes, Mr. Sokhet was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment and fined the equivalent of approximately $500.

The complaint argues that Mr. Sokhet’s detention is arbitrary for the following reasons:

  1. he is detained on the basis of a vague and overly-broad provision of law that does not provide a legal basis for detention,
  2. imprisoning him for what he wrote violates his right to freedom of expression,
  3. Cambodia has violated Mr. Sokhet’s right to a fair trial, and
  4. his detention on the basis of his actual or perceived political opinions violates his right to freedom from discrimination. 

The complaint not only requests that Mr. Sokhet be released, but also calls on the Working Group to assess the compatibility of Cambodia’s criminal incitement provisions with international standards. 

Debevoise’s partnership with CFJ is part of CFJ’s TrialWatch® initiative, which monitors criminal trials globally against those who are most vulnerable — journalists, protesters, women, LGBTQ+ persons and minorities — and advocates for the rights of the unfairly detained.  CFJ’s partner, the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights, monitored Mr. Sokhet’s trial as part of TrialWatch. 

Stephen Townley, Legal Director of the TrialWatch® initiative at CFJ, said: “It’s time for Cambodia to reform its vague incitement law, rather than using it to imprison journalists and activists like Mr. Sokhet.  We hope the Working Group will urge the Cambodian authorities to release Mr. Sokhet, who suffers from serious health conditions, and engage the Cambodian authorities on the need for legal reform.”

The Debevoise team representing Mr. Sokhet with CFJ is led by partner Catherine Amirfar and counsel Floriane Lavaud, and includes associates Ramsay McCulloch and Isabelle Glimcher, and law clerk Michael Pizzi.  For more information on CFJ’s TrialWatch® initiative, please see here.