Cambodian Rapper Among Those Arrested in Crackdown on Youth Critics

Authorities have detained a young rapper and popular TikTok user as the space for free expression grows even smaller.
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Police block motorists from passing at a checkpoint set up at the border between Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal province, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Phnom Penh on April 10, 2020. Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP

Cambodian rapper Kea Sokun has been charged with incitement after he was arrested last week over a viral song posted on YouTube, local media and rights groups confirmed Thursday, September 10.

Though the arrest was discussed on social media for days, Sokun’s father told Cambodia news website VOD his son was taken after police questioned whether any political party was involved in the composition of his song titled “Dey Khmer” or Khmer Land.

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“If we run out of land, there is nothing left,” Sokun raps, in verses that allude to the deeply sensitive question of land ownership, especially along the border with Vietnam. “Listen to me calmly: Wake up, we are heroes, handcuffed to catch thieves. Destroy the exploiters, put them in jail and lock them up. Take our freedom. Don’t be afraid, do not panic.”

The song racked up more than 1 million views after it was posted back in April. It was then deleted but more recent versions have gone up.

Sokun was among 10 young people, including a Buddhist monk, who have been arbitrarily detained and charged with incitement in the past month, according to Amnesty International.

VOD also reported that Nhel Thearyna, a popular TikTok user with more than 100,000 followers, was arrested this week for saying Angkor Wat, the famous temple complex, does not belong to Cambodia in a video.

Under long-serving prime minister Hun Sen, Cambodia has become increasingly intolerant of government criticism, and independent media there is almost nonexistent despite once having a robust press.

Hun Sen cemented his grip on power in 2018 elections after the main opposition party was banned. The strongman’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won every seat in parliament, turning the country into a one-party state.