Former Adhoc staffer Ny Chakrya was yesterday sentenced to six months in jail and fined 6 million riel (about $1,460) after being convicted of defaming two Siem Reap court officials in a case widely seen as judicial harassment of the rights group.
The year-old case stems from criticisms by Chakrya – who now works with the National Election Committee – of the Siem Reap court officials after they arrested two residents of Chup Romdeng village in Svay Leu district who were involved in a high-profile land dispute.
Last June, the villagers – Ven Lorn and Beourn Sok – were found guilty of inciting a group of residents to destroy and intrude on the property of agricultural development firm Community Takhmao Development Agricultural & Industrial.
But after Chakrya aired his criticisms at a press conference, investigating judge Ky Rithy and deputy prosecutor Sok Keo Bandith accused him of public defamation, acts of slanderous denunciation, and publication of commentaries to put pressure on the judiciary. They also claimed he had accused them of colluding to commit corruption.
While the case’s first hearing in July was postponed due to the absence of the plaintiffs, the pair were again absent yesterday, with their lawyer, En Yoeun, presenting as evidence an audio recording and clippings of coverage of Chakrya’s press conference gleaned from the internet.
“We have no more evidence to produce and just wanted to confirm that the comments of the suspect, via the media, affected the plaintiffs,” he said.
Chakrya’s attorney, Kea Sophal, however, questioned the wives of the two villagers, who testified that the rights staffer was only highlighting the unjust detention of their husbands. He also called into question the validity of the plaintiffs’ purported evidence.
“The proof from the plaintiff is not strong, because it is just taken from social media links,” Sophal said. “And in the recording, my client has not accused the court officials of committing corruption.”
Nonetheless, presiding judge Khy Chhai in his ruling implied that there was a blanket ban on criticism of the courts – an institution that for years has been roundly criticised for its lack of independence.
“We cannot accuse courts of wrongly implementing the law; only the higher court has this right,” Chhai said yesterday. “He [Chakrya] has no right to use a press conference like that.”
Following a four-hour trial, Chhai found Chakrya guilty under articles 305, 311, 312 and 522 of the Criminal Code.
As he left the court, Chakrya said he had no hope for justice given the court’s lack of independence.
“It is like you want to drink clean water. If the pond is muddy, you cannot hope to get clean water to drink,” he said.
Both the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International yesterday described Chakrya’s sentence as an attack on the rights of civil society and human rights workers.
“Today’s conviction of Ny Chakrya is a brazen assault on the right to freedom of expression, which protects criticism of officials, including judicial officials,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights, on behalf of 35 civil society organisations, also condemned the conviction, calling it an “escalating crackdown on independent voices”.
Chakrya – and four Adhoc staffers – are currently in pre-trial detention on unrelated accusations of bribing the alleged mistress of acting CNRP president Kem Sokha.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga