Three newspaper editors charged with attempting to extort money from a karaoke video actress were set free Wednesday to the surprise of a municipal court judge, who said he had not ordered the release.
The men, who were being held at the anti-human trafficking police station, were released at about 9 am Wednesday morning, said Thieng Vandarong, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Information.
But Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kong Seth, who charged the three, said that the men were turned over to municipal police Tuesday and should have been sent to jail. “I did not release them,” he said by telephone.
The three editors were arrested by police Saturday and charged with attempting to blackmail 18-year-old actress Vang Sreynoo by threatening to publish pictures falsely linking her to a pornographic video.
Thieng Vandarong said the release followed a Tuesday meeting where the lawyer for Vang Sreynoo agreed with the editors’ lawyer to drop charges in exchange for a public apology acknowledging the editors’ wrongdoing.
Chum Kanal, president of the League of Cambodian Journalists, claimed that municipal police coordinated the release with the LCJ.
Chum Kanal said that Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth contacted him at about 8 am Wednesday morning, and told him to retrieve his colleagues from police custody.
Chum Kanal said he had heard that the order for the men’s bail was issued by municipal court director Chiv Keng.
Neither Touch Naruth nor Chiv Keng could be contacted for comment. Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal referred questions about who ordered the release to Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Khieu Sopheak.
Khieu Sopheak said that it was his understanding that the court had approved the release of Kaing Samnang, editor of Sangket Kar; Chan Chhai Yuth, editor of Samaki Cheat; and Kuch Kunthea, editor of Sangkum Cheat.
Pen Samithy, president of the Cambodian Club of Journalists and editor of Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper, said that he was happy with the release.
The men had been in Prey Sar prison for a brief period when their lawyer reached an agreement with Vang Sreynoo’s lawyer, he said.
“I can’t talk about what happened in the court and what happened with the police, but I welcome their release,” he added.
According to Thieng Vandarong, representatives of the CCJ, Vang Sreynoo’s father, her producer and actors attended the Tuesday meeting at the J Hotel on Street 63.
The editors agreed to apologize and, in their written apology, they confessed to making a “big mistake,” but would not admit to blackmail.
In a second statement, the three also pledged to never again spread rumors about the teenage actress, and also promised not to seek revenge against her for complaining to police, according to copies of the statements signed by the editors and their lawyer.
Vang Sreynoo could not be reached for comment. Vang Sreynoo’s lawyer, Koeut Vannarith, said that his client only agreed to drop civil charges seeking compensation from the three men.
The criminal charges of extortion, however, were still to be settled by the court, Koeut Vannarith said.
Exactly who released the three men and why, left some puzzled.
Ham Sunrith, lawyer with local rights organization Licadho, said that by law, criminal cases cannot be settled outside of court.