After questioning three residents of Ratanakkiri’s Pate commune yesterday, the provincial court announced that two Cambodia Daily reporters would be summonsed in two weeks to respond to questions regarding a complaint filed against them for seemingly routine reporting.
Provincial Prosecutor Chea Pich said that plaintiffs Rocham Yi, 28, Sev Born, 35, and former CNRP Commune Chief Rmam Yout, 41, were questioned yesterday, after their summonsing on June 4. “I just want to tell you that they already appeared to be questioned,” he said.
He said the court would summons the two journalists for June 27. Pich said he was unaware of the specific charges against the two journalists. Previously, he had pointed to Article 171 of the Commune Election Law, which prohibits “causing confusion that leads to a loss of trust” and compromising the secrecy of a vote.
The journalists – Zsombor Peter and Aun Pheap – allegedly asked villagers why they had supported the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in the 2012 commune elections, while the rest of the province mostly voted for the Cambodian People’s Party.
Despite the routine nature of the interviews – which came in the lead-up to the June 4 commune poll – the trio lodged a complaint against the journalists on May 22 for asking questions that they said were “incitement with bad intention”.
The government was accused of creating a hostile press environment ahead of the poll, with the National Election Committee releasing a vaguely worded and restrictive code of conduct – dubbed a “code of censorship” by critics – for media outlets, accompanied by threats to revoke the licences of violators.
Born yesterday said he had asked for $3,000 to drop the matter, despite the fact that neither the Commune Election Law nor the article for incitement appear to allow for compensation. “I was asked whether I want to continue the case, or stop it here, or what I want. I said I need 12 million riel in compensation for me alone,” he said, and added that if the journalists failed to compensate him, he would ask the court to imprison them. “It’s incitement when reporting about politics during the [election] campaign.”
Fellow plaintiff Yout said he was questioned for about 10 minutes. “[The journalists] asked me who and what party I support. I did not tell them. I will vote for any party I like. It’s my right,” Yout said, adding that the court would decide on potential compensation.
Yi could not be reached.
Cambodia Daily General Manager Douglas Steele said he had heard of neither the questioning nor any summons. Asked whether the two reporters would appear, he said that “we will comply with Cambodian law . . . They committed an act of journalism, and that’s not a crime.”
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski