An opposition newspaper has been called to court today for alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, unfairly secured a lucrative fishing lot to indirectly benefit the Cambodian Red Cross, which she chairs.
The summons requests Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) appear in municipal court to respond to questions about the June 2 article. It does not specifically say any sort of civil action has been taken against the newspaper by Bun Rany.
Dom Sith, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, said Thursday he has not yet received the court summons and will not go before a judge. He also said that Bun Rany never complained to him about the article, instead taking the matter directly to municipal court.
“If she wanted our newspaper to correct this information we will do the correction,” Dom Sith said.
Court records show Bun Rany filed the original complaint on June 11. Dom Sith acknowledged getting an earlier summons to appear in court on Sept 20.
The June 2 article quoted an unnamed source as claiming that Bun Rany helped a private company obtain a fishing lot on a tributary of the Tonle Sap River. Lots are typically secured through an open bidding process, according to Nao Thouk, deputy director of the fisheries department for the Ministry of Agriculture.
But using a letter allegedly signed by Bun Rany, the company got the lot without having to compete against other bidders, the paper quoted the source as saying. Some of the income generated by the fishing lot was to be given to the Cambodian Red Cross, the article alleged.
Red Cross officials did not comment of the case, calling it a private dispute.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also said the case was a private matter and that Bun Rany never lodged a complaint on behalf of the Red Cross with the Ministry of Information.
Though using political influence to obtain fishing lots is not unheard of, Bun Rany has denied any involvement in this case.
According to her spokeswoman, Khun Sodary, Bun Rany claims the information in the article is wrong. “The madam is the president of the Red Cross. Why would she be involved in fishing lots?” Khun Sodary said Thursday. “It is injustice for her.”
But Khun Sodary said it is now up to the court to decide if the newspaper is guilty.
According to press laws, anyone who feels they have been harmed by press reports has the right to demand a retraction. A retraction or reply from the publisher must be given within seven days if ordered to by a court.
That person can also sue the publisher of the statements on the charge of defamation, libel or humiliation. Newspapers and other media outlets face fines of up to 5 million riel ($1,250) if found guilty of defamation.
Though the press law has been challenged numerous times since its creation, there have been relatively few cases of individuals filing complaints against newspapers, according to Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
But the courts generally rule in favor of the complainant, he said.
Sok Sam Oeun said that while the defamation section of the press law is generally sound, it can be misinterpreted by judges.
“[Dom Sith] should get himself a lawyer,” Sok Sam Oeun said.