Local and international rights groups called Monday for the release of jailed newspaper editor Dam Sith, who was imprisoned ahead of trial Sunday for alleged defamation and disinformation.
The UN Human Rights office in Phnom Penh also is investigating whether Dam Sith’s arrest and pretrial detention comply with the 1995 Press Law, the Constitution and international standards applying to freedom of speech, office representative Christophe Peschoux said Monday evening.
“We hope to be able to express our concerns directly with government,” Peschoux said by
“[The arrest] doesn’t send a very positive message with regards to freedom of expression and freedom of media in the run-up to the election,” he added.
In a joint statement, local rights groups Adhoc, Licadho and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights called for Dam Sith’s release, saying the arrest was unnecessary and showed judicial disregard for the Press Law.
They were joined in their condemnation of the arrest by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella group of 21 rights groups, as well as the Club of Cambodian Journalists, Cambodia Association for the Protection of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists.
“Democracy cannot prevail where the media is hampered in its efforts to report on politics and the election campaign,” the IFJ said in a Monday statement.
In separate statements, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and 12 SRP lawmakers called for Dam Sith’s release.
“Dam Sith’s case is not a criminal case, and the court should not arrest or detain him,” the SRP statement said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Chhay Kong declined to explain Monday why he had ordered Dam Sith’s sudden detention Sunday, a day the court is typically closed. However, Chhay Kong said that he was considering whether to release the accused following a request from the editor’s lawyer.
The arrest stemmed from a suit brought by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong after Dam Sith’s SRP-affiliated Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper published an article that quoted SRP President Sam Rainsy linking the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance to the Khmer Rouge.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he also wrote to the municipal court’s Director Chiv Keng on Monday seeking Dam Sith’s release ahead of trial.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kurczy)