Legislature Sues Jailed Radio Host

The National Assembly has filed a lawsuit with Phnom Penh Municipal Court accusing Mam Sonando, the incarcerated owner of Beehive FM 105 Radio, of de­faming the As­sem­­bly by broadcasting a radio in­terview in which border issues were discussed, officials said Thurs­day.

Assembly Secretary-General Kim San signed off on the complaint to the court on Tuesday, claim­ing Mam Sonando defamed the house by broadcasting a Sept 20 interview with Sean Pengse, the former president of the Paris-based Cambodia’s Border Com­mit­tee, Kim San said.

Mam Sonando was arrested and charged with defamation on Tues­­day over the same interview, fol­lowing a lawsuit filed on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was accused in the interview of al­low­ing Vietnam to take Cambo­di­an land.

The National Assembly’s complaint “was lodged on Tuesday for faulty information and defaming the National Assembly,” Kim San said. “The complaint asks the court to find justice for the Nation­al Assembly because it affects the top body.”

As well as criticizing Hun Sen over border issues during the in­ter­­view, Sean Pengse also charged that the Assembly and its president, Prince Norodom Ra­nariddh, were protecting and de­fending the premier, according to a transcript of the interview.

Kim San said the Assembly’s com­plaint did not include Sean Peng­se, who was charged in ab­sentia with defamation in the premier’s law suit.

“The Assembly complained against Mam Sonando alone be­cause he is the owner of the radio sta­tion and he is responsible for broadcasting the false information,” Kim San said.

Kim San said he did not consult with Assembly members before lodging the complaint.

“The secretary-general can complain to the court on behalf of the National Assembly, though it was not done on behalf of [Prince Ranariddh],” Kim San said.

Municipal Court Chief Prose­cu­tor Ouk Savouth said that he re­­ceived the Assembly’s complaint Wednesday but had not had time to look at it.

It was not clear whether the Press Law or the UNTAC criminal code might be applied if Mam Sonando is charged following the new lawsuit.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive di­rec­tor of the Cambodian Defen­ders Project, said that under Ar­ticle 13 of the Press Law, defamation lawsuits can be launched by na­tional institutions.

Article 13 states: “The press shall not publish or reproduce false information which may lead to humiliation which effects [sic] the national organs.”

A conviction under the article re­sults in a 2 million to 10 million riel fine (about $500 to $2,400), but no prison sentence.

The UNTAC law’s defamation and libel article, under which Mam So­nando has already been charged, carries a maximum one-year sentence and maximum fine of 10 million riel, or both.

Hong Kimsuon, the Cambodi­an Defenders Project lawyer representing Mam Sonando, said that he filed a request for bail with the court Thursday, though no date has been set for a bail hearing.

High-level observers have called for the immediate release from jail of Mam Sonando and for the case to be tried under civil in­stead of criminal law.

Replying to a letter from opposition lawmaker Keo Remy in which he asked King Norodom Si­hamoni to intervene on the ra­dio director’s behalf, retired King Norodom Sihanouk said there was little the King could do.

“His Majesty, the King, is really sad in his heart over this case,” the retired king wrote from Bei­jing on Wednesday in a letter pos­ted on his Web site Thursday.

“His Majesty, the King, cannot do anything that makes himself to be an enemy to the ruler.

“The arrest of Mr Mam So­nando is wrong with the State law in a liberal democracy,” he added.

The UN Office of the High Com­­­­missioner for Human Rights also expressed concern.

“Cases of libel and defamation should be dealt with under civil law and not as a criminal matter,” a spokesperson for the office said, ad­ding that Mam Sonando’s ar­rest and detention are highly ir­regular and inappropriate.

“This arrest, together with other recent cases in which the gov­­ernment or government officials have brought defamation charges against the media, constitute a deeply worrying trend,” the spokes­person said.

            (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)

 

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