A senior official at the Council of Ministers said Monday that he has sent a request to the Military Court to investigate an article published in the opposition-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper.
Phay Siphan, who serves as a CPP secretary of state and spokesman at the Council of Ministers, said he has asked the court and the Defense Ministry to investigate “the meaning” of an article about a speech delivered by CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha during a trip to Australia.
Mr. Siphan said he had sent the request to the military after failing to receive an explanation from the newspaper about the article, which accused members of the armed forces of surrounding Phnom Penh on the night of the July national election to manipulate the result.
The article was published in Moneaksekar Khmer on November 13 and is headlined Kem Sokha: The Massive Event of Election Result Fraud and the Dispatching of Armed Forces to Surround Phnom Penh and the Robbery of the Victory of the Cambodian People.
“We want the editor-in-chief of Moneaksekar Khmer to clearly explain about the headlines, whose comments those are and the purpose of the article that raised the idea of armed forces surrounding Phnom Penh and robbing victory from Cambodians,” Mr. Siphan wrote in a letter to the newspaper’s editors dated November 15.
Mr. Siphan said that a deadline of November 30 had passed without the newspaper providing a written response as to whether the views in the article were those of Mr. Sokha or of Dam Sith, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper and a CNRP lawmaker-elect for Phnom Penh.
“We gave them three weeks to explain but we didn’t receive any written explanation or verification concerning the headlines or whose comments those were,” Mr. Siphan said.
“We exercised our right by sending this case to our lawyers to submit a complaint with the Military Court because we have a right to know who said this.”
Mr. Siphan said he was enforcing the government’s “right to know” by passing the case to military authorities.
“The complaint filed with the Military Court is not a defamation or disinformation case. We just need the editor-in-chief of the newspaper to explain things,” he said.
Mr. Sith, who has faced a slew of defamation and disinformation lawsuits brought by the government in his time as editor of Moneaksekar Khmer, said the article was a summary of an interview with Mr. Sokha uploaded to YouTube.
“I already sent [Mr. Siphan] the video footage, so I wonder why he keeps asking for a written letter,” Mr. Sith said Monday.
“This is a serious threat to journalists at the Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper,” Mr. Sith said, adding that he believed Mr. Siphan harbored “ill-intentions” by involving the military in journalism.
“The article was not reporting about military secrets or anything that could threaten national security,” he said.
In the 20-minute video interview, which was recorded by a Cambodian-Australian community television show during the CNRP deputy leader’s visit to Melbourne last month, Mr. Sokha claims that an NGO had on election night informed the CNRP that they had won 76 of the 123 National Assembly seats.
“We asked our officials to go out to have a look, and then we saw that they had dispatched troops everywhere throughout Phnom Penh’s streets,” Mr. Sokha says in the interview.
“[CNRP President] Sam Rainsy and I thought that they would arrest us since we had won, so we left to stay at an embassy—the embassy of a powerful country.”
“This was a massive event,” Mr. Sokha adds, accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP government of stealing the opposition’s election victory.
“Everybody knows the CNRP won and the CPP lost. The CPP knows clearly that it lost, because they robbed [votes.] Nobody knows better than them,” Mr. Sokha said.
Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent lawyer who heads the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, said that he thought the jurisdiction of the Military Court in investigating a matter of journalism could be brought into question.
“Under law, the Military Court can investigate any cases related to military crime but I don’t think defamation or an information case like this is a military crime,” he said.
Mr. Sokha is currently in the U.S. on a trip to meet with Cambodian-Americans in an effort to raise funds for the CNRP’s protests in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh later this month.
His daughter, Kem Monovithya, who also serves as a member of the CNRP’s permanent committee, said that the issue raised by Mr. Siphan does not concern Mr. Sokha.
“It’s between the newspaper and Phay Siphan,” Ms. Monovithya said. “Whatever he said in public in Australia has been available on his Facebook page and YouTube for some time already, and is available for anyone to go and watch.”