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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KCF head to apologise for comments

KCF head to apologise for comments

SUED Recent victims

  • Mu Sochua, SRP lawmaker: sued after filing her own defamation lawsuit against PM Hun Sen, due in court July 24
  • Hang Chakra, editor: sued for articles published in opposition-aligned newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, jailed for one year on June 26
  • Moeung Sonn, KCF chairman: sued for criticising proposed Angkor Wat lighting scheme, jailed for two years July 14
  • Sam Rainsy, SRP president: sued for alleging PP Governor Kep Chuktema's involvement in vote-buying, court date not yet scheduled
  • Ho Vann, SRP lawmaker: accused of defaming 22 senior army officials' educational credentials, due in court July 17
  • Neou Vannarin, Cambodia Daily reporter: accused of defamation following an article on senior army officials' degrees, due in court July 17
  • Dam Sith, editor: sued for running critical articles in Moneaksekar Khmer, forcing paper's closure on July 10
  • Kong Sam Onn, SRP lawyer: sued after representing Mu Sochua in her lawsuit against PM Hun Sen, resigned and defected to CPP July 7

THE chairman of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation said he would apologise to Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials for his criticisms of a light-installation project at Angkor Wat, after Phnom Penh Municipal Court slapped him with a two-year jail term for disinformation Tuesday.

Moeung Sonn, who is currently in France, told the Post Wednesday that he was writing to Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to apologise for comments made during a May 26 press conference, when he suggested that the heat from the lights could damage the 11th-century temple.

"My comments over the lighting installation at Angkor Wat temple were just a concern, and I had no intention of damaging the government's reputation or objecting to the Apsara Authority's development [of the site]," he said.

"I spoke out just to preserve and protect the World Heritage temple."

The Apsara Authority, headed by Sok An, administers the Angkor temple complex and planned the light installation as a way of encouraging nighttime visitation of the site.

Rights groups have slammed Tuesday's ruling, which included 15 million riels (US$3,615) in fines and compensation, describing it as a further blow to freedom of expression in the country.

"That the head of an organisation whose mandate is the promotion and protection of Khmer Culture cannot raise concerns in relation to the most emblematic symbol of Cambodian culture is more proof of the steady decline in freedom of expression in Cambodia in recent weeks," Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, said in a statement Wednesday.

In the past month, former Sam Rainsy Party lawyer Kong Sam Onn and Dam Sith, publisher of the opposition-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, both wrote personal apologies to the prime minister after being sued for defamation by government officials. Both saw the charges against them dropped.

In a statement released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch slammed what it called the government's "most serious crackdown in recent years", citing nine defamation and disinformation lawsuits filed against government critics, including critical politicians and media outlets.

"Once again, Hun Sen is showing his true stripes by harassing and threatening to imprison peaceful critics of his increasingly authoritarian government," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said he was not surprised by Moeung Sonn's intention to apologise for his comments, saying he was following a well-trodden path.

"I think he's being intimidated and forced to take the same route as Kong Sam Onn, Dam Sith and many other people before him," he said.

National symbol
Following Tuesday's court hearing, government lawyer Pal Chan Dara also outlined defamation suits filed against two pro-government newspapers, Kampuchea Thmey and Rasmey Kampuchea, for printing criticisms related to the Angkor Wat lighting scheme.

"No matter whether the paper is aligned to the government or the opposition, we will sue them in court for incorrect stories because our country is a state governed by the law," he said.

Ou Virak said the action against the pro-government newspapers made sense in light of comments from Sok An, who told the National Assembly in May that Angkor Wat was one of two issues - the other being the border - that were especially "sensitive" for the government.

But Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute of Media Studies, said the lawsuits were unlikely to involve the publishers and editors of the two newspapers.

"I don't think they'll sue the publishers, who are well-connected to the government," he said. "I think that they will target the reporters themselves."

Phay Siphan, Council of Ministers spokesman, said Tuesday the lawsuits had been withdrawn, since the publishers of Kampuchea Thmey and Rasmey Kampuchea had written letters of apology and promised to "train their reporters to print professional stories".

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