Banteay Meanchey provincial court officials said yesterday they questioned a Cambodian Television Network reporter on Thursday over a defamation and disinformation lawsuit filed against him by a senior government official.
Deputy court prosecutor Tan Seihak Dechak said that the plaintiff, Dam Chhat Rei, filed the lawsuit last month after CTN reporter Lai Ly allegedly reported on television that Mr Chhat Rei had used a tractor to destroy rice fields that a villager claims to own in Phnom Srok district’s Srah Chik commune.
Mr Dechak declined to disclose Mr Chhat Rei’s official position, saying just that he was a “senior official.”
He added that court officials had already questioned the plaintiff.
“Both plaintiff and the accused gave a lot of documents and discs to defend themselves,” he said.
Mr Ly, who has been employed as CTN’s Banteay Meanchey correspondent for more than a year, said yesterday that he had interviewed all parties involved in the land dispute to ensure that his reporting was fair and professional.
He said he broadcast a total of three reports on the land dispute between July and Sept, the last of which had reported that Mr Chhat Rei’s tractor cleared part of a seven-hectare rice field that RCAF soldier Lay Saran claims to own.
“It is quite unjust for me because my reports were conducted with professionalism, transparency and balance,” said Mr Ly. “I interviewed all local authorities and parties involved, including Mr Chhat Rei.”
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the seven hectares adjoins a larger plot that had been the subject of a long-running land dispute. That case was settled in Mr Chhat Rei’s favor in 1998, but it was unclear yesterday whether this ruling included the seven hectares in question.
“The reporter shouldn’t have been sued with disinformation and defamation,” Mr Chankea said.
Mr Saran’s wife, 50-year-old Heng Ponnar, yesterday repeated her claim that Mr Chhat Rei destroyed part of her field using a tractor.
She said she wanted to appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen “to intervene to resolve the case in favor of poor villagers.”
Mr Chhat Rei could not be reached yesterday.