PM Says He’ll Sue Anyone Over Borders olicy

Prime Minister Hun Sen ar­rived back in Cambodia Wed­nes­day after signing a controversial ad­ditional border agreement with Vietnam, announcing at Phnom Penh International Air­port that he would sue anyone who accused him of selling Cam­bo­dian territory. 

Hun Sen’s warning came a day af­ter Mam Sonando, owner of Bee­hive 105 FM Radio, was ar­res­ted and charged with defamation for broadcasting an interview in which Hun Sen was heavily criticized and accused of allowing Vietnam to take Cambodian land.

“Accusing Hun Sen of selling ter­­ritory is not funny,” Hun Sen told reporters. “From now on, I will sue whoever, no matter what pos­­ition he holds. I must sue him.”

Hun Sen accused Mam Sonan­do of manipulating the Sept 20 interview with Sean Pengse, the for­mer president of the Paris-based Cambodia’s Border Com­mit­tee, to elicit the accusations from him.

“It was a staged drama,” Hun Sen said. “So [Mam Sonando] is a co-perpetrator.”

Hun Sen said he would not tolerate allegations he was selling land because they were being made to achieve political goals.

“They accuse me of being a traitor to the nation,” the prime minister said, adding that he was not attacking the constitutional freedom of the press, and pointing out that Beehive has not been closed.

“If we shut down his radio station then it could affect freedom of the press…. I find justice for myself and the government.”

At Prey Sar prison where Mam So­nando is detained, prison officials barred members of his family and rights workers from seeing him Wednesday morning.

Prison Director Kim Sarin later said the group needed permission from Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Interior Ministry.

“A defamation case against the prime minister is very big,” Kim Sar­in said. “We cannot allow them to see him freely.”

Hong Kimsuon, the Cambodian Defenders Project lawyer representing Mam Sonando, said he would ask the court to release his client on bail today.

Outside the prison, Mam So­nan­do’s wife, Dinn Phanara, said she was concerned about his health.

“I am very concerned about his health because his health was not good this week,” she said. “I want to see him. I would like to appeal to prison officials to please provide him some food and water.”

Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, condemned the decision not to let visitors see the detainee.

“We just want a quick visit and if not us, then it should be his wife,” he said. “We want to encourage him as well as to encourage other people who have been frightened by his arrest.”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, added her voice to a chorus of ob­servers, embassies and journalist as­­sociations who view Mam So­nan­do’s arrest as a threat to press free­dom.

“There is only this one radio station that brings accurate information to the government to take ac­tion for the people,” she said. “The arrest of Mam Sonando intimidates other staffers in the station.”

Sok Sam Oeun, president of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said Mam Sonando can be charged and detained for libel and defamation under UNTAC laws.

“There are a lot of problems with the UNTAC law,” he said, adding that its use “makes it easy for them to shut the mouths of the journalists.”

Cambodia’s Press Law states that any jour­nalist who commits a criminal act is not protected by that law, which treats defamation as a civil case.

Under the UNTAC laws, defaming someone is considered a crime.

Alex Sutton, resident country director of the International Re­pub­lican Institute, said Tuesday that Mam Sonando’s arrest fits in­to a pattern of curbs on press freedom and freedom of expression.

The Culture Ministry’s ex­pressed desire to censor books, re­cent talk of regulating the In­ternet and an Information Minis­try or­der to radio stations not to broad­­cast newspaper stories all fell in­to the same category, Sutton said.

“This [arrest] isn’t a shock,” he said. “I think the Hun Sen government has calculated it can take a step back on free speech and freedom of expression. It makes you won­der if the government is going in the right direction.”

Um Sarin, president of the Cam­bo­dian Association for the Pro­tec­tion of Journalists, agreed that Mam Sonando’s arrest is not an iso­lated incident.

“If this situation continues then freedom of the press will be under threat,” Um Sarin said. “It will make many other people scared to express their views.”

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith dismissed claims that Mam Sonando’s treatment was an attack on press freedom.

“One tree does not make a forest,” he said. “Mam Sonando’s arrest does not signal an end of freedom of the press.”

Chhay Sinarith, director of the Interior Ministry’s Information Department, defended the government’s decision to send dozens of armed police officers to arrest Mam Sonando.

“Some people run away from home because of a warrant signed by a judge,” he said. “Police must enforce the court verdict or warrant. The number of police in­volved is not an issue. Police can use any number in order to get the job done.”

(Reporting by Pin Sisovann, Phann Ana and Lee Berthiaume)

 

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