SAM Rainsy Party parliamentarian Ho Vann said he was “very happy” with his acquittal on defamation charges by Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday but urged the court to reverse its verdict against two journalists who were co-defendants in the case.
Municipal Court judge Sin Visal found Ho Vann not guilty of defamation charges, but Kevin Doyle and Neou Vannarin of The Cambodia Daily newspaper were convicted under the 1995 Press Law of not properly publishing a retraction of defamatory information. They were ordered to pay fines of US$1,000 each.
The charges stemmed from an April 2009 article by Neou Vannarin in the Daily in which Ho Vann was quoted as saying that academic degrees obtained from a Vietnamese military institute by 22 officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces were “worthless”.
Speaking from the United States, Ho Vann told Radio Free Asia that he was “very happy” with the result, and that he would return to Cambodia soon.
CPP lawmaker and First Deputy President of the National Assembly Nguon Nhel said Wednesday that Ho Vann’s parliamentary immunity, which had been revoked pending a verdict in his case, could be restored through a request from the Ministry of Justice or a two-thirds vote from the National Assembly. But Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of Cambodian Defenders Project, said the restoration of immunity should be automatic.
Although he called the verdict in his own case “fair”, Ho Vann was not unequivocal in his praise for the Municipal Court.
“I am calling for the court to arrange so that the sentence against Kevin Doyle and Neou Vannarin is dropped also, because they brought corrections to their news,” he told RFA.
Civil society organisations echoed Ho Vann’s criticism of the judgment against the two journalists. Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, said that members of the media “should be protected to do their work and not face legal attacks for just reporting the news”, and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said the judiciary must respect “freedom of expression”.
Doyle said Tuesday that his newspaper planned to appeal the court’s ruling. Sok Dara, the lawyer for Neou Vannarin, said he had not heard about an appeal but called the court’s decision “unfair”.
“My client told me that he only wrote what Ho Vann told him,” Sok Dara said.
Tann Mengsroy, the lawyer for the 22 officers who served as plaintiffs in the case, declined to comment on whether or not his clients would lodge an appeal.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP