SENIOR officials at the Ministry of Justice said that the Supreme Council of the Magistracy has no power to intervene in the case of jailed newspaper publisher Hang Chakra, despite a letter sent by King Norodom Sihamoni to Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana asking that the council reconsider the publisher's conviction.
Hang Chakra, the publisher of the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, was convicted in June of defamation and publishing false information in connection with a series of articles published in April and May accusing officials working for Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption. He was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 9 million riels (US$2,187). The Court of Appeal rejected his case on August 11.
In a letter dated August 24, a group of local media and civil society groups wrote to the King, urging him to request that the Supreme Council of the Magistracy reconsider Hang Chakra's case. The King then forwarded the request to Ang Vong Vathana.
"We considered the request of the King, but based on our analysis, we do not believe that the Supreme Council of the Magistracy has the power or obligation to examine the conviction of the court," a Ministry of Justice official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Tuesday. "I think that the publisher should use his right to appeal to the Supreme Court to reconsider the conviction."
Touch Naro, the president of the Cambodia Journalist Watch Association and one of the signatories of the letter, argued that according to the 1995 Press Law, Hang Chakra's conviction should never have occurred.
"We need an explanation about the legal process that put Chakra in jail, because he did not commit any crimes," he said.
Choung Chou Ngy, Hang Chakra's lawyer, told the Post that he visited his client in jail on Wednesday, finding him in poor health and unsure of whether he will appeal his conviction to the Supreme Court.
Ang Vong Vathana could not be reached for comment on Thursday.