FOUR vendors’ representatives from Chhouk market in Kampot province remain uncertain about the status of defamation charges brought against them by the market owner, even after authorities removed 50 stalls from the market’s parking lot on Wednesday, honouring the request that prompted the charges in the first place.
The removal followed a protest in Phnom Penh on Monday, staged by around 100 vendors, who said the stalls, built in 2007 on the market’s parking lot, were driving away their customers.
Ou Narin, the owner of the market, filed a defamation suit against the four defendants some time after they sent a complaint about the stalls to Prime Minister Hun Sen last August on behalf of the market’s 303 vendors.
Vouch Bo, one of the four accused, did not know when Ou Narin filed his suit, but said she had received a summons in December ordering her to appear in provincial court on January 14. Court officials said that all four representatives – Vouch Bo, Pak Chhay, Viech Sokhon and Ith Samnang – were sent summonses, but that only Vouch Bo and Pak Chhay claimed to have received them.
“I was very frightened, but when Pak Chhay and I appeared in court we had the support of more than 200 vendors who accompanied us,” Vouch Bo said, adding that the court had postponed the session for 15 days after she and her co-defendant were unable to find a lawyer.
Vouch Bo said that vendors were “happy for the help of the prime minister”, but that the defamation lawsuit was taking a toll on her health.
“I cannot eat or sleep well,” she said. “I am always thinking of the court case.”
As of Thursday, the court had given no indication of when the next session would take place, if ever, but Doeu Sokhom, provincial monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said his organisation had hired lawyers for the defendants from a private firm.
“We have the lawyers for them, but we only began discussing the case with them today,” he said.
Doeu Sokhom said the vendors’ complaint did not constitute defamation because the market vendor violated the 15-year contract he made with
district authorities in 2002, which allowed him to charge daily vending fees and build infrastructure at the market, but “did not allow him to build stalls in the parking lot”.
Ou Narin could not be reached for comment on Thursday.