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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rowdy crowd cause court closure

Rowdy crowd cause court closure

T HE trial of Khmer newspaper editor Thun Bunly - his second trip to court in

three months - was abruptly adjourned last week because of rowdiness in the

courtroom.

Bunly, of Oudamkati Khmer (Khmer Ideal) newspaper, has been

charged with disinformation under Article 62 of the UNTAC criminal

code.

The charge relates to seven articles published this year which,

among other things, accused the government of using tyrannical power, called on

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen to relinquish power to the King and described Hun

Sen's face as being "thicker than the blade of an ax".

Bunly maintains

the articles represented his opinions, which he was legally allowed to

express.

The courtroom at Phnom Penh Municipal Court was packed with

journalists and human rights workers when he appeared for trial Aug

16.

Policemen were kept busy trying to maintain order, as Khmer

journalists and photographers moved around the room. At one point, a journalist

stuck his camera within half a meter of the face of Chief Judge Oum Sarith,

before being pushed back by a policeman.

When the judge challenged Bunly

to prove the claims in his articles, the editor repeatedly replied: "They were

not news stories, but my opinion, editorials. I can tell you no more than

this."

He added: "Journalists must write like this [to express their

opinion]. No need to be a journalist if we just write to uphold the testicles of

others. The country will be ruined."

Some journalists present, apparently

colleagues of Bunly, welcomed his comment with applause, prompting the judge to

ask the prosecutor to adjourn the trial.

The trial was later scheduled

to resume on Monday, Aug 28.

Bunly's defender, Ang Eng Thong from the

ADHOC human rights group, said his defense was based on Article 41 of the

constitution, which protected the expression of opinions.

However,

Minister of Information Ieng Mouly said: "There would have been nothing wrong if

[Bunly] had published the truth. We saw no truth in those articles and we want

him to explain."

Bunly had not been charged under the government's new

press law, which allows journalists to be fined for disinformation, because it

had not yet taken effect.

Mouly said the press law was signed by both

Prime Ministers on Aug 18 and would be forwarded to King Norodom Sihanouk to

ratify it.

Bunly was last in court in May, when he was fined 5 million

riels ($2,000) under the UNTAC law for defaming the Prime Ministers. He is

appealing that conviction.

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