Ban on Phones During Trial Goes Unheeded

As a Phnom Penh Municipal Court clerk read out a police re­port to the courthouse about a robbery suspect standing trial on Mon­­day morning, Presiding Judge Nhean Sovann’s mobile phone began to ring.

The telephone ring that interrupted the proceedings was a tune consisting of woman’s voice sing­ing a slow Khmer love song.

The judge answered the phone but spoke only briefly, cutting the call short and returning his attention to the clerk, who had never stop­ped reading the report.

Municipal judges, prosecutors and other officials are commonly seen half-crouching behind their desks to answer telephone calls during trials, despite an Oct 21 order by Municipal Court Director Chiv Keng’s banning all mobile phones from the municipality’s courthouse.

Police officers stationed at the court, who often warn journalists and others not to use their phones, cam­eras or tape recorders or even to speak to trial participants, said that they dare not tell a judge or prosecutor to follow the new courtroom orders.

Contacted on Monday for comment on answering his telephone during the trial, Nhean Sovann said the case had so exhausted him that he could not be interviewed for this story.

Chiv Keng said that he would re­iterate his orders to his officials who were apparently disregarding the ban.

“We don’t want to have the use of the phones during the trials be­cause it disturbs” the legal pro­cess, Chiv Keng said. “This is only internal advice, but we will re­mind them again.”

Minister of Information Khieu Kan­harith said that he had not yet received a response from Chiv Keng regarding a letter he wrote of­fering assistance in handling me­dia relations following a Dec 9 incident when journalists were punch­ed and shoved by police at the court while trying to interview jail­ed Beehive Radio owner Mam Son­ando.

Khieu Kanharith’s Dec 15 letter suggested that the court appoint a media spokesperson to handle reporters’ questions.


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