Court Summons Lawmakers, Radio Free Asia Journalist Over Prison Visit

Two opposition lawmakers and the deputy director of Radio Free Asia (RFA) for Cambodia have been summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning after authorities accused the journalist of pretending to be part of the CNRP delegation during a prison visit on Wednesday.

“This is just a beginning of the procedure into whether they committed a mistake or not,” said Chin Malin, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, on Sunday.

cam photo prisoners
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua leaves Prey Sar prison in 2014 after visiting 18 jailed activists, including 10 women on hunger strike. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

One warrant issued on Friday summoned Huot Khin Vuthy, who broadcasts under the alias Chun Chanboth, for questioning on May 2 under suspicions that he falsely declared his position as an “assistant” to lawmakers Mu Sochua and Long Ry when he signed in at Prey Sar prison to visit a group of 16 opposition officials and activists imprisoned there.

Mr. Ry and Ms. Sochua were slapped with summonses of their own to appear on April 27 and 28, respectively, as witnesses in the case.

Mr. Malin said Mr. Khin Vuthy was suspected of false declaration, a charge that carries up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 4 million riel, or about $1,000, while the lawmakers did not currently face any charges.

“Whether they are found guilty or not depends on the process of the investigation,” he said.

Reached on Sunday, Mr. Khin Vuthy said RFA superiors had asked him to refer any questions to a U.S.-based spokesman for the station, who did not respond to requests for comment.

But in interviews last week, Mr. Khin Vuthy denied signing in as assistant, saying that he had left the space for his job title blank, and that officials had voiced no objections to him joining the CNRP contingent after he was initially turned away from visiting jailed political commentator Kim Sok.

The U.S.-based journalist told online outlet Swift News on Saturday that he had asked his managers to advise him on whether to appear for questioning.

Mr. Malin said on Sunday that failing to appear would only add to the journalist’s woes.

“If you don’t appear to defend yourself, the accusation could become a truth,” he said. “When it becomes a truth, the investigative process might not give you a good result.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the CNRP lawmakers had politicized what should have been a goodwill visit, and would not be allowed back to visit their confederates.

“If it’s a normal visit…like asking prisoners ‘Are you healthy? Can you sleep? Can you eat?’…it would not matter,” he said.

The problem with the Wednesday visit, according to General Sopheak, was that the opposition used meetings with the media after leaving the grounds to grandstand.

“When they came out of the prison they spread political messages,” he said, accusing the CNRP of parroting the rhetoric of their jailed comrades to reporters: “‘No problem, brothers and sisters who are outside the prison—let’s make change.’”

The spokesman did not say what rules their behavior violated, and did not answer questions as to what might cause the ministry to lift its verbal ban. Ms. Sochua and Mr. Ry could not be reached for comment.

A slew of court cases have scattered opposition leaders behind bars and abroad in cases the party and human rights activists say are politically motivated.

They say that Cambodia’s courts, which were ranked 112th out of 113 countries in the World Justice Project’s 2016 Rule of Law index compiled based on survey of local residents, are largely political weapons for the ruling party.

But Mr. Malin denied any political motivation for the latest investigation.

“It is​ purely the implementation of the law,” he said.

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