The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is to render a verdict on Friday for the publisher and editor of a Khmer-language newspaper accused by an RCAF officer of defaming him in an article on illegal logging, which the paper published last year, Deputy Prosecutor Heang Sopheak said.
RCAF Major Meas Sopheap, commander of Platoon 204 in Kratie province, sued Meatophoum publisher Chan Prakad and editor-in-chief Sun Sophal for defamation after the bi-weekly newspaper in late April 2009 accused the major of running an illegal logging operation. According to his April 30, 2009, complaint, Maj Sopheap is demanding $20,000 in compensation from the newspaper.
The court questioned the parties in May and June of last year and closed its investigation last April.
“I accept that newspapers print articles to be critical and constructive, but Meatophoum printed its article to defame and destroy Platoon 204’s reputation and make readers misunderstand,” the major said yesterday. “The newspaper has no evidence. The reporters just heard about it from word of mouth without seriously investigating. They betrayed their code of ethics and their profession.”
Mr Sophal defended the paper’s work: “I gave all the evidence of illegal logging to the court already,” he said.
“Our sources from Kratie province’s Snuol district reported that they [soldiers of Platoon 204] did illegal logging.”
Khmer Journalist Friendship Association President Orm Chandara also defended the paper.
“The Meatophoum newspaper printed the article with its own sources, who are villagers in that area who know those soldiers are from Platoon 204,” he said. “They not only reported to Meatophoum reporters but they also reported to some four other local newspapers.”
In publishing the news, he said, the paper was not aiming to defame the major but to assist in the nationwide crackdown on illegal logging ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year.