Newspaper editor and SRP activist Dam Sith was released from pretrial detention at Prey Sar prison Sunday morning by order of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, officials said.
The release comes one week after Dam Sith was detained in connection to a lawsuit brought by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong over an April 18 article in the editor’s Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper. The article quoted allegations by SRP President Sam Rainsy that the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance had links to the Khmer Rouge.
The release also comes a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen requested Dam Sith be set free in a letter sent to municipal court Director Chiv Keng.
The prime minister said Sunday during a bridge groundbreaking ceremony in Kandal province that he requested Dam Sith’s release ahead of trial because he doesn’t pose a flight risk. Hun Sen added that his request was not because of mounting criticism by local and international rights groups over the detention.
“Please do not confuse that this is because of outside pressure,” Hun Sen said.
“If the court convicts [Dam Sith], we will arrest you regardless of where you are,” Hun Sen added.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Chhay Kong confirmed Sunday that he ordered Dam Sith’s release.
“The decision was made through the judge’s decision,” Chhay Kong said, while declining to comment on whether Hun Sen’s request influenced that decision.
Chhay Kong added that he will continue to investigate the case.
Dam Sith said by telephone from his home Sunday that he left prison around 11 am and was greeted by family members and SRP lawmakers.
“I would like to thank Samdech Hun Sen for making the request, but I am sad because Samdech claimed in the past that no journalist would be detained; I was detained,” he said.
“It is a political threat against the SRP and myself from powerful government officials,” Dam Sith said of his arrest.
Dam Sith, who is also an SRP candidate in the July election, added that he felt that his arrest was unjust because many newspapers published Sam Rainsy’s comments about Hor Namhong, but he alone was arrested.
“I just quoted what Sam Rainsy said,” he said.
Sam Rainsy said Hun Sen has interfered with the court system by requesting Dam Sith’s release. He also accused Hun Sen of breaking down under international pressure.
“This country does not respect the law. There is only one individual who causes the windstorm and he has abused the court system and the National Assembly,” Sam Rainsy said.
“He attacked us and then gave medicine later. The court arrested Dam Sith by abusing the law. He created the problem, and how acts like he solved the problem.”
Neither Hor Namhong nor Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Sin Bunthoeun could be reached for comment Sunday.