Svay Rieng Provincial Court charged three men and a woman with disinformation on Friday after they disseminated a single pamphlet making dire prophecies, officials said.
The men were arrested on Thursday in Svay Rieng City for passing around a leaflet that predicted a world war, volcanoes and earthquakes in the years 2012 through 2014, said Svay Rieng provincial police chief Prach Rim.
“We arrested four people and sent them to court because they handed out leaflet that might intimidate people,” Mr Rim said. The arrests were made because the pamphlet sowed fear in the community, exhorting people to do good deeds in order to survive disasters, he said.
“I think the court will release them because the case is not a big crime,” he added.
Svay Rieng Provincial Court officials could not be reached yesterday.
Set Vannak, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that guesthouse owner Heng Vanny, 49, and dentist Yin Sokun, 50, as well as his patients Keo Sarun, 19, and Mao Lak, 38, were charged on Friday.
The pamphlet with religious prophecies attributed to Buddhism was passed from Ms Vanny to Mr Sokun, then to his two patients who showed the leaflet to others, Mr Vannak said.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor at Licadho, called for the court to reconsider the case and release the men. “I think it was their right of expression,” he said.
Chea Vannath, a political observer, said the people should not be imprisoned for disseminating a prophetic pamphlet, because the constitution protects freedom of expression.
The predictions concerned the future, so they cannot be proved true or false, she noted.
“The move was probably due to fear of social disorder, especially after what happened on Diamond Island,” she said, referring to the stampede on a Phnom Penh bridge that killed 353 last month. “The authorities feel nervous of…any other speculations because the accident is too fresh.”
An annual report by the US State Department released last month gave a positive assessment of Cambodia’s religious tolerance, concluding that the government generally respected religious freedom.
(Additional reporting by Alice Foster)