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)