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Editor in court over accusations

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court questioned a newspaper editor Monday in connection with two articles he published accusing a government official of profiting from a scholarship programme named after Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The complaints against Bun Tha, editor of Khmer Amatak newspaper, were filed November 5 by Kao Kim Hourn, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and president of the University of Cambodia, after the newspaper published articles criticising an unofficial 20,000-riel (US$4.78) fee levied on applicants for a scholarship sponsored by the Japanese government and Hun Sen.

The articles say that although there were just 500 places, as many as 20,000 students – many from poor, rural areas – paid to apply.

After Monday’s hearing, Bun Tha said he was thankful that the charges against him do not carry jail terms, but that it was not a good sign that senior officials used the courts to bring complaints against editors.

“The school shouldn’t have complained to me, which is a bad sign for democracy, since my paper is not aligned to any party,” he said.

Kao Kim Hourn said Thursday that the journalist had been unprofessional, failing to collect information from the university. He said the articles had “impacted the reputation” of the school, but that the money collected from the application fees went towards supporting housing for poor rural applicants and paying teachers’ salaries.

“We didn’t intend to pursue the case to Phnom Penh Municipal Court in September – we wanted to have a reconciliation with the editor,” he said. Only after Bun Tha failed to print a correction was legal action considered, he added.

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