The government has filed defamation, disinformation and incitement lawsuits against opposition-affiliated Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper editor-in-chief Dam Sith over stories published in his newspaper earlier this year, officials said Wednesday.
Government lawyer Long Dara said by telephone that he had filed the complaints with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over more than 20 articles published between February and May in the Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, including stories about the removal of former RCAF commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan.
“Talking as a whole, there are many cases. He used inciting words, he wrote a lot about civil servants, about Ke Kim Yan. He didn’t write the truth and incited,” Mr Dara said of Mr Sith.
Mr Dara claimed he could not recall specific details of the case, including who in the government had pushed for the lawsuits, but said that media in the country needs to do more “to respect their duties, the press law, and respect the code of ethics.”
“In the name of journalists, they must talk the truth,” he said, adding that the lawsuit was filed against Mr Sith by the government on June 5.
Mr Sith said Wednesday that he had received a summons Tuesday to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on July 14 for questioning.
These are the latest lawsuits filed against Mr Sith, who was charged with defamation, disinformation and insult in June last year for an article published in his paper containing quotes from SRP President Sam Rainsy about Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. Mr Sith was sued by the minister and jailed for one week before the charges were dropped at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“The charges are serious,” Mr Sith said Wednesday, adding that he did not know what stories were deemed incorrect and inappropriate by the government.
“I have a lot of worries and fears that it will be like the previous case,” Mr Sith said. “It seems that there is not enough rights of expressing opinions in the media by people who are not in favor of the government.”
Municipal Deputy Prosecutor Sok Kalyan said Wednesday that he could not recall the details of the case against Mr Sith, adding that “many articles” printed in the Moneaksekar Khmer were used as grounds for the lawsuit. “I just called him for questioning, wait until I question him first,” Mr Kalyan said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Wednesday that he also didn’t know the details about the lawsuit concerning Mr Sith, adding that the editor had also called him to find out about case. “Dam Sith didn’t even know, how can I know?” he asked.
The lawsuit against Mr Sith is only the latest in a string of lawsuits filed by the government and military officials against critics.
SRP affiliated Khmer Machas Srok newspaper editor-in-chief Hang Chakra is currently serving a one-year prison term after being found guilty of disinformation in a case filed against him by Cabinet Minister Sok An.
SRP lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann, who have both had their constitutionally guaranteed immunity stripped, have been charged and ordered to stand trial later this month for defamation cases filed against them by Mr Hun Sen and senior RCAF officials respectively.
Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, has also been charged and ordered to stand trial for criminal disinformation for saying that new electrical lighting at Angkor Wat causes damage to the temple.