Kompong Thom Provincial Court yesterday sentenced a newspaper editor charged with using a fake license plate to one month in prison, of which he has already served two weeks, with a further 23-month suspended sentence, according to provincial court president Khorn Sokol.
Khon Darahul, the 47-year-old editor of Chhantah Kon Khmer newspaper, was charged with using a car license plate marked only “Press” in Baray District’s Chong Doung commune on July 20.
“We did not fine him. If he is not happy with my verdict he has the right to appeal,” said Mr Sokol.
Sok Sovann, president of the Press Council of the Cambodia, said that it was the first time that a court case had been brought to Kompong Thom court over a press license plate. “They want to crack down on our freedom of expression,” he added.
Moeun Chhean Narridh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said yesterday before the sentence was handed down that a fair punishment would be to remove Mr Darahul’s license plate.
“He did not [use the plate] to cheat money or to do any criminal activity. He is just a journalist who used a press plate.”
“It is unfair that the police and the military can use similar plates,” he added. “The press should be entitled to have a separate license plate to indicate that we are independent from the government.”
In a further twist, Mr Darahul’s wife, Kim Chanroeurn, claimed that a Kompong Thom court clerk had asked her for a bribe shortly before the trial, in exchange for a reduced sentence for her husband. She said that Van Seng initially asked her for 10 million riel, and they bargained until she agreed to pay the clerk 7 million riel–about $1,660.
“I wanted my husband released as soon as possible,” she said.
Mr Seng denied the allegations. “I couldn’t take this bribe as…I am small position.”
Ms Kim went on to claim that after members of the press began to ask Mr Seng about the alleged bribe, he returned the money.