Cambodia’s Ambassador to Britain has defended the jailing of newspaper editor Dam Sith in a letter to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and refuted a report by the organizations that journalists and the political opposition face intimidation.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia totally refutes the allegations…that the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Mr Sith is part of a concerted pattern of intimidation by the Government against opposition parties and independent media in the run-up to Cambodia’s General Election on July 27,” Ambassador Hor Nambora wrote Thursday.
“By filing a formal complaint against Mr Sith, the Deputy Prime Minster [Hor Namhong] has merely exercised his legal rights in seeking to defend and protect his good name and reputation,” added Hor Nambora, who is Hor Namhong’s son.
“This is really no different from the situation in the UK and other European countries…,” Hor Nambora continued, and noting that the government “is entirely separate from the country’s judicial system and is not involved in its decisions in any way.”
Dam Sith was jailed ahead of trial Sunday on charges of “insult,” “disinformation” and “defamation” related to a story that quoted SRP President Sam Rainsy who alleged that the ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs had links to the Khmer Rouge. Hor Namhong has vigorously denied such allegations.
Amnesty International researcher Brittis Edman, who was named in Hor Nambora’s letter, said Friday that the government’s response demonstrated that it is concerned by what human rights groups have to say about the editor’s arrest.
“Of course we hope that they will be concerned enough to release Dam Sith,” she wrote in an email. “It appears that the government has used its executive powers and a sweeping and vaguely worded law […], arbitrarily detaining a journalist for doing his job, in quoting a public official,” Edman continued.
“Systematic bias of the Cambodian courts in favor of those in power” is well documented, “and remains one of the central factors that blocks rule of law in Cambodia,” she added.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid organization the Cambodian Defenders Project, said Friday that the judiciary is not independent and the arrest of Dam Sith on a Sunday was testimony to the nature of his case.
“For simple cases, [the courts] relax on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said. “This is normal in Cambodia; for political cases, they work on Sunday.”
The Sam Rainsy Party on Friday reported that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has denied a request of bail for Dam Sith.
According to an SRP statement, the editor’s bail appeal was rejected on the grounds of preventing him from committing other crimes and to “prevent social chaos.”
Municipal Court Investigating Judge Chhay Kong said Friday that he was too busy to comment. Court Director Chiv Keng could not be contacted.