The Mong Reththy company Tuesday agreed to drop its charges against an opposition newspaper that is appealing an April conviction for defamation, a company representative said.
“I don’t want to take their money or beat them [in court],” said Tan Monivann, an adviser to company President Mong Reththy. “We agreed to drop [the charges] before the court verdict, but it was too late.”
In April, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the Voice of Khmer Youth, a pro-Sam Rainsy Party newspaper, guilty of defamation and printing false information for repeating a forestry monitor’s 1998 allegations that Mong Reththy representatives and high-ranking military officers were involved in illegal logging in Koh Kong province.
The newspaper did not attribute the information to the forest monitor’s report.
The newspaper’s editor in chief, Keo Sothea, was ordered to pay 30 million riel (about $7,500) to the company and 20 million riel (about $5,000) each to Military Region 3 Commander Keo Samuon and his deputy, Keo Pong.
A fine of 1 million riel (about $250) was also levied for printing false information. The newspaper appealed the April 4 decision, and local journalists accused the court of obstructing free speech.
Keo Sothea said the company dropped its charges against the paper without conditions, but requested that the paper not print false information defaming Mong Reththy again.
“They just told me not to print false stories [about them] in the future,” Keo Sothea said. “For me, this is not a problem, because the stories I print are always true.”
It was unclear Wednesday whether the suit’s other two parties—the commander and deputy—would also drop charges.
Keo Samuon said he was considering the idea but had not yet been contacted by Mong Reththy representatives about the possibility.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Keo Samuon said. “Frankly, I didn’t want to sue the paper, but it printed a false, irresponsible story defaming me.
“I have a reputation in the government. When things like this are printed, it is not good for me.”
Reached Wednesday, Keo Pong hung up the telephone twice, declining to comment on the possibility of dropping charges. He then switched off his phone.
Tan Monivann said he believed that the military men would agree to follow the company’s lead. “I think they wouldn’t mind” dropping the charges, he said. “They, too, want to get the court case over with.”
He said the company never intended to stifle free speech.
“If my company does something wrong, they can print a story about it, but they should not exaggerate,” he said.