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.