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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defamation suit looms for second publisher

Defamation suit looms for second publisher

Moneaksekar Khmer publisher Dam Sith is to appear in court for questioning on Tuesday.

A second pro-opposition newspaper publisher has been sued in as many months for defamation, disinformation and incitement by a senior government official and has been summoned to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning on Tuesday.

Dam Sith, publisher of the Sam Rainsy Party-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, said Wednesday that he had received a summons from court deputy prosecutor Sok Kalyan, but did not know the reason for the lawsuit.

"I received the citation [Tuesday] but I don't know at all why they are suing me. I just knew that a government lawyer filed the complaint against me," he said, adding that he was looking for a lawyer to study the case.

I don't understand why the government created a press law, but doesn’t use it...

Dam Sith, who was imprisoned briefly at Prey Sar prison last year after printing controversial comments made by opposition party chief Sam Rainsy, expressed fears he could end up back in prison in connection with the charge.
On June 26, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Heng Chakra, publisher of Khmer Machas Srok News, to a year in prison and fined him 9 million riels (US$2,156) on similar charges.

Hang Chakra was sentenced under the UNTAC penal code, drawing criticism from rights groups who say he should have been tried under the more liberal 1995 Press Law, which does not carry a prison term.

Sok Kalyan said Wednesday he served papers to Dam Sith after a defamation filing by Long Dara, a government lawyer.

Long Dara did not go into detail about the nature of the accusations against Dam Sith, except to say his newspaper had published defamatory material that affected government officials and that he would learn about the charge when he appears in court.

"We sued him for three offences in his publishing. The first is defamation, the second is disinformation and the third is incitement," he said.

"When he appears in court, they will have evidence to show him. There is no problem if he has proof for his published material to clarify to the court. This is the legal procedure."

A rigged 'game'
But human rights groups question whether the procedures in place are sufficient.

In a statement released Tuesday, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada expressed concern about what it termed the "persistent reluctance" of the government to ensure judicial independence.

"Executive control over the judiciary, prosecutors and the legal profession is accomplished through slow-paced and selective law reform, control over appointments and dismissal of judges and prosecutors," the statement said.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said he had not heard about Dam Sith's case, but that the government should not use the outdated UNTAC penal code against journalists.

"I don't understand why the government created a Press Law but doesn't use it to resolve problems with journalists," he said.

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