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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defamation ruling on paper 'unjust'

Defamation ruling on paper 'unjust'

Cambodian journalism associations sharply criticized an April 4 court ruling

that a journalist from an opposition-aligned newspaper defamed two high-ranking

military officials and a company belonging to a leading businessman

Judge

Kim Sophorn ruled that Keo Sothea, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the

Voice of Khmer Youth, was guilty of defaming former Khmer Rouge commander

General Keo Pong and his boss, the commander of military region 3 in Kampong

Speu, General Keo Samuon.

Judge Sophorn also found Sothea guilty of

defaming a company belonging to a well-connected businessman, Okhna Mong

Reththy. The judge fined Sothea $18,000 and said if he did not pay he would go

to jail.

The case arose after the paper ran a story in October 2001 using

information from a 1998 report by environmental watchdog Global Witness accusing

the two men and the company of complicity in illegal logging.

The

Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) and the Club of

Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), of which Sothea is a member, strongly condemned the

verdict as unjust.

In its statement the CCJ said the verdict threatened

press freedom and the media in Cambodia. The CAPJ appealed to King Norodom

Sihanouk to intervene to bring justice for those living in his

shade.

"The CAPJ considers the trial was not fair and has no value, and

the judgment destroys the worth of Cambodia's judges," it said.

Sothea

was originally charged under Article 63 of the UNTAC Penal Code. The Code was

superseded by the 1995 Press Law, and the judge later moved to charge him under

Article 10 of the Press Law on the request of Sothea's lawyer, Bun Honn.

Honn said the paper did not run or exaggerate the story to defame the

company and the generals. He said it merely quoted information from Global

Witness.

The paper had used the NGO's report in an article accusing Mong

Reththy's Pagoda Boy Construction Company of hiring army personnel from the two

generals' Division 44 to cut logs along the border of Koh Kong, Kampot and

Kampong Speu. All three denied that was true.

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