The ownership dispute over Radio 90 FM intensified as the station was abruptly cut off Thursday afternoon, as police enforced a Municipal Court decision to strip ownership rights from the wife of the station’s late director.
Before the airwaves went silent at the formerly pro-Funcinpec station, a sobbing, hysterical Keo Sophea—the wife of the late director—appealed to listeners for help and threatened to burn the station down with herself and her children inside.
“If anything happens, me and my four children will kill and burn ourselves here in this station,“ she wailed over the airwaves.
Police entered the station around 3:30 pm, and the station was silenced.
After the intervention of the more than a dozen police and court officials, who arrived with two fire trucks, Keo Sophea was allowed to remain at the station Thursday evening, but ownership was back in the hands of a Funcinpec-appointed trustee.
No violence occurred and Radio 90 FM resumed broadcasting.
Speaking by telephone from the station Thursday evening, Keo Sophea maintained the station still belonged to her.
“This station is my ownership,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Municipal Court Judge Hing Thirith revoked a Feb 12 court decision that had ruled in favor of Keo Sophea as the station’s rightful owner.
Hing Thirith said fellow judge Kim Sophoan’s earlier decision had been “wrong” and issued an “urgent affair verdict”—or court order—reversing the decision.
The order was welcomed by the lawyer of Nhem Sophana, who was appointed by Funcinpec to run the station and had produced enough documents to prove he was now the rightful owner of the disputed station
“Officially, Nhem Sophana holds the license, so he has the right to own and run this station,” lawyer Tuot Luch said.
Tuot Luch told reporters his client would demand that the court remove Keo Sophea from the station.
The dispute over the station’s ownership arose after former director Chhim Bunthorn died in December. His wife, Keo Sophea, maintained it now belonged to her.
Shortly afterward, the station stopped broadcasting its regular news and views programming in favor of music and advertising.
A casualty of the station’s programming direction was outspoken human rights campaigner and former royalist party senator Kem Sokha, who is the director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Claims the station’s new owner was attempting to stifle free speech were followed by a statement from the US Embassy noting it would follow the ownership case closely.
Though political parties are not officially allowed to own radio or television stations, they are owned in trust and Radio FM 90 is known as a Funcinpec-aligned radio station. It was shut down by CPP forces following the 1997 factional fighting.
According to a document signed March 2003, by Funcinpec Minister of Information Lu Laysreng, Nhem Sophana was the rightful owner of the station.
Judge Kim Sophoan, who had initially signed off on the eviction of Nhem Sophana and his staff from the station, defended his initial order on Thursday, saying he made his decision based on a request by Keo Sophea.
Hing Thirith said the ruling was flawed because his fellow judge had not invited all parties involved for questioning.
Keo Sophea said she will appeal the latest court decision.