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Rights staffer fined for defamation

Kampong Chhnang provincial court convicted a local human rights activist Tuesday of defamation under the Kingdom’s new Penal Code in connection with a land dispute case.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, was ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riels (US$247) and reparations of 3 million riels to developer KDC International, said San Sophat, a judge at the provincial court.

“We didn’t sentence him to imprisonment, we just fined him,” San Sophat said.

Criminal defamation can carry a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million riels, and a prison sentence of between one month and one year.

Sam Chankea said he was not surprised by the decision.

“If the court decided to let me win the case, it would be surprising,” he said. “In Cambodia, we rarely see the poor win the lawsuit,” he said.

KDC International is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, minister of industry, mines and energy.

However, Sam Chankea said he will appeal the court’s ruling, and his Lawyer, Long Lon, said they would file soon.

Thai Hy, a representative for the company, declined to comment Tuesday.

KDC International filed a complaint against Sam Chankea in June last year accusing him of disinformation and defamation for comments he made to Radio Free Asia in December 2009 suggesting the company’s land clearance may have been illegal.

Last week, Reach Seima, 30, was convicted of disinformation and fined 2 million riels and ordered to pay 8 million riels in compensation to the firm. Similar charges against villager Pheng Rom, 45, were dropped.

In April 2009, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Toch Ly, the chief of Lorpeang village, located in Kampong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune, to 16 months in prison for falsifying residents’ complaint documents.

Toch Ly was advocating on behalf of local families involved in a dispute with KDC International. The firm claimed the families had already sold their land. A total of 64 families said in June last year they had struck no such deal.

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