Judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have initiated contempt of court proceedings against the United States-funded media outlet Voice of America Khmer for allegedly quoting from confidential court documents in a news report.
Commentators said yesterday the move was an attempt to stifle public discourse on cases 003 and 004, which many believe are set for dismissal amid political pressure.
Co-investigating judges Siegfried Blunk and You Bunleng issued a statement yesterday that Voice of America had “quoted verbatim from a confidential document of the ECCC and even showed that document on a video” during an August 10 report.
“The co-investigating judges have instituted proceedings for interference with the administration of justice (contempt of court),” it added.
VOA ran a series of reports based on interviews with suspects in cases 003 and 004 as well as confidential court documents submitted by prosecutors. The suspects have been named previously in the international press.
In June, the judges issued a warning that any news outlets quoting confidential documents could face contempt proceedings, after the US-based Christian Science Monitor allegedly quoted from a submission from the court’s co-prosecutors outlining their request for an investigation into Case 003.
The judges revealed later that month that proceedings were under “active consideration” after the New Zealand-based news website Scoop posted several confidential documents online.
VOA representatives yesterday emphasised the need for freedom of speech. Sok Khemara, who reported the stories, said via email yesterday: “I think that revealing the truth for the public is the duty of the journalist. In addition, muzzling the journalist’s work would be weaken the freedom of expression, human rights, democracy.”
VOA Khmer service chief Chris Decherd said by email that VOA “supports the work of the ECCC and helps inform the Cambodian public by reporting about the ECCC’s work”.
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said there was “no doubt” the co-investigating judges were trying to control public discussion of cases 003 and 004.
“They want to clamp down on the public discussion of these documents,” Heindel said.
The Cambodian government has publicly stated its opposition to prosecutions in cases 003 and 004, and Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang has said the suspects fall outside the court’s mandate of trying “senior leaders” and “those most responsible” for crimes of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
In April, the co-investigating judges closed their inquiry into Case 003, even though they had not examined a number of crime sites in the case and had not questioned the suspects.
The judges said last month there were “serious doubts” as to whether the suspects in Case 004 were within the court’s jurisdiction – a move observers viewed as a prelude to the case’s dismissal.
Court spokesman Lars Olsen said he had no further information about the contempt proceedings and could not say whether action against other media outlets had been taken.