SRP President Sam Rainsy on Tuesday offered his own detention in exchange for the release of jailed newspaper editor Dam Sith.
In a news conference at SRP headquarters, Sam Rainsy offered to take the place of Dam Sith, editor-in-chief of the SRP-affiliated Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, who is being held in pretrial detention.
“The court can arrest me in exchange for the release of Dam Sith. Like Burma, which arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, [the government] can arrest Sam Rainsy,” he said, referring to Burma’s Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader.
“I request the court to release Dam Sith because Dam Sith repeated my words. What I said, I was repeating from the retired King,” Sam Rainsy added.
Dam Sith and Sam Rainsy were both accused of defamation and disinformation in lawsuits filed at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in April by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong. Hor Namhong filed the suits based on an April 18 article in Moneaksekar Khmer that quoted Sam Rainsy linking the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance to the Khmer Rouge. Hor Namhong has vigorously fought such allegations in the past and has successfully sued in court.
Chhay Kong, the investigating judge who recommended Dam Sith’s detention Sunday, which is not a traditional workday for the court, said Tuesday that there is no precedent of swapping a detained person with another.
“There is no law to exchange people,” he said, adding that he had not yet decided on a request for bail filed Sunday by Dam Sith’s attorney.
More than two dozen local and international rights organizations have called for the release of Dam Sith, who was been in detention at Prey Sar prison since his arrest Sunday by plainclothes military police officers.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella group of rights organizations, reiterated its appeal Tuesday for Dam Sith’s release and for an end to the “unlawful” use of the courts. The group was joined in its condemnation of Dam Sith’s arrest Tuesday by the organization Reporters Without Borders.
“Dam Sith’s arrest violates both press freedom and political pluralism, and we call for his release, especially as Cambodia decriminalized defamation in 2006,” the organization said in a statement.
Although prison sentences for defamation have been eliminated, a stint in jail can still be handed down for the similar offense of disinformation, with which Dam Sith has also been charged.
Sam Rainsy claimed that the ruling CPP is pressuring the court to keep Dam Sith in prison, adding that the upcoming national election should not be recognized if Dam Sith is not released.
“Dam Sith represents the opposition newspaper…. The ruling party uses the court to pressure the opposition party, and the CPP is standing above the law. The remaining justice and freedom has already disappeared,” he said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Sam Rainsy is exploiting Dam Sith’s case for personal political gain.
“Sam Rainsy is confusing between the executive [branch] and the court. I have pity on Dam Sith,” Khieu Kanharith said by telephone Tuesday. He added, however, that the article published in Dam Sith’s newspaper had affected Hor Namhong’s reputation.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia is seeking a meeting with Khieu Kanharith to discuss the arrest, Country Reprsentative Christophe Peschoux said Tuesday.
Sam Rainsy also said Tuesday that he is asking that former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary testify in any future legal case. Ieng Sary is currently being detained at the Khmer Rouge tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sam Rainsy’s announcement comes after a Phnom Penh court deputy prosecutor revealed last month that he was considering calling Khmer Rouge tribunal detainee Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, the director of the S-21 torture prison, as a witness in the case brought by Hor Namhong.
“I would like to inform the prosecutor that Ieng Sary, who was a former leader of Democratic Kampuchea, is to testify,” read a letter to the Phnom Penh court released on Tuesday by Sam Rainsy’s attorney, Choung Choungy.