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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Editor says he won't pay fine

Editor says he won't pay fine

O udamkati Khmer (Khmer Ideal) newspaper editor Thun Bunly, facing a ten million

riel fine or two years in prison, has vowed to fight the sentence to the bitter

end.

Bunly, convicted of disinformation and defamation, also had his

paper ordered permanently closed.

But he has won a temporary reprieve

from the court, after the Ministry of Information had insisted on his

newspaper's presses remaining idle, until his appeal of the sentence is

heard.

Bunly's trial was resumed on Aug 28, after being adjourned several

weeks ago because of rowdiness in the courtroom, under the eye of armed,

helmeted police.

He had been charged with disinformation under Article 62

of the UNTAC criminal code.

However, in his closing argument, prosecutor

Yet Chariya asked Judge Oum Sarith to add a charge of defamation under Article

63 as well.

Bunly's defender, Ang Eng Thong, protested the late addition

of the charge, saying justice demanded that advance warning of new charges be

made.

Judge Sarith convicted Bunly of both disinformation and defamation,

sentencing him to pay ten million riels or spend two years in jail.

The

judge also ordered the newspaper closed under the State of Cambodia press law -

a law Bunly was not charged under.

Bunly, speaking several days after

being sentenced, pledged not to pay the fine or go to jail. He said he would

appeal to the Appeals Court and, if that didn't work, to the supreme

court.

He complained that the Ministry of Information had warned the

private printing house which printed his newspaper to stop doing so, even though

he had two months in which to appeal the court's decision.

His paper was

later re-opened after he persistently requested Judge Sarith to give permission

for publication to continue until his appeal was heard.

Bunly maintained

that his sentence was unjust because the articles in question - which, among

other things, accused the government of being a dictatorship - were a legal

expression of his opinion.

Khmer Journalists Association president Pin

Samkhon protested Bun Ly's sentence as the latest in a series of disturbing

prosecutions of journalists.

"Those actions threaten the freedom of the

press as guaranteed by constitution of Cambodia."

He said he was

concerned that the procedures used by the courts violated people's right to fair

a trial.

"In the case of Khmer Ideal, one new charge was added during the

course of the trial and the accused editor was given no time to prepare a

defense against the charge. The prosecution presented no evidence to prove its

case but instead invited Bunly to prove that he was innocent."

"This

assumption of guilt violates article 38 of the constitution, which guarantees

that an accused shall be considered innocent until proven

guilty."

Samkhon also described the order to shut down Khmer Ideal as

"illegal" because it was permitted by the UNTAC law he was charged under.

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