Court Upholds Editor’s Defamation Verdict

The publisher of a controversial Khmer-language newspaper was again found guilty of defaming National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and sentenced to probation and possible imprisonment, punishments not found in the current press law.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sao Meach on Friday sentenced Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) publisher Dam Sith to five years of probation, violation of which would lead to a month in prison. Dam Sith was also ordered to pay a 1 million riel (about $250) fine to the court, but only 100 riel (about $0.03) to the prince.

The same judge in May found Dam Sith guilty of defamation for the same series of articles. In that trial, Dam Sith was sentenced to pay the same fines, but was not handed down the probation.

The newspaper’s lawyer, Sok Pheng, claimed that Cambodian court procedure allows for a defendant to have a second trial in the same court if he or she was not present at the first trial. Dam Sith did not appear at either of the two trials.

At issue was a series of nine withering articles printed in the newspaper in early 2000. Read out in the court Friday, the articles referred to the prince as “Prince Ranariddh, president of the chicken-ass parliament” and the “most tricky prince.”

Asked by the court for evidence to support the stories Fri­day, Sok Pheng instead pointed broadly to issues of infighting within Funcinpec and allegations of nepotism and corruption against party officials. He said the court should investigate the prince’s finances to prove the pub­lisher’s allegations of corruption. But prosecutor Chhin Chiva said there was no anti-corruption law that would require the prince to reveal his finances. And the prince’s lawyer, Son Arun, dismissed Sok Pheng’s allegations as unrelated to the defamation charge.

Sok Pheng said the newspaper’s statements were protected by the 1995 Press Law, which states that no person can be arrested or subject to criminal charges for stating an opinion.

But the prosecution said the newspaper had acted criminally, violating the older Untac code which outlaws defamation. Son Arun said the articles did not constitute opinion because: “Opinion has dignity…. It is not an insult like that.”

After the ruling, Sok Pheng said, “The present press law and present government are not recognized [by the court].” He said he would appeal the verdict.


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