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Court overturns NGO’s defamation conviction

Former Equitable Cambodia staffer Chan Vichet speaks to reporters in 2013.
Former Equitable Cambodia staffer Chan Vichet speaks to reporters in 2013. Vireak Mai

Court overturns NGO’s defamation conviction

The Appeal Court on Friday overturned defamation convictions for three staffers from NGO Equitable Cambodia (EC) brought by a former employee.

EC Executive Director Eang Vuthy and staffers Chheang Phea and Phen Kimsong were found guilty of public defamation by a Phnom Penh court in August 2016 over an internal memo circulated among the three regarding the conduct of Chan Vichet, a former employee of the land rights NGO.

While EC maintained that the memo had been kept confidential, Vichet claimed it had been discussed with his co-workers, giving him grounds for the lawsuit. But Judge Nhoung Thol on Friday said there was no evidence to back Vichet’s charges that the memo constituted public defamation and overturned the conviction, according to court spokesman Touch Tharith.

After the hearing, Vuthy only said he was relieved to have received a favourable verdict.

“Yes, the Appeal Court overturned the verdict. We are of course very pleased with the result and grateful to the court for delivering this decision,” he said via text message.

The three had each been slapped with an approximately $2,000 fine and ordered to pay around $2,400 as compensation to Vichet after a lower court found them guilty, despite a prosecutor’s admission at the time that there was no evidence to back the accusations.

As an Equitable Cambodia employee, Vichet worked with local communities in land disputes related to ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s firm, Phnom Penh Sugar Company, in Kampong Speu province.

Community members later alleged that Vichet had begun working on behalf of the sugar company after his dismissal.

Vichet, who did not go to the trial hearing saying he had not received a summons, was also absent on Friday, and said he was unaware of the verdict. Instead, he threatened to file a lawsuit against The Post.

The Phnom Penh Post has published untrue things and previously has twisted my name,” he said, adding he was “preparing a complaint”.

Meanwhile, EC has not received permission from the Ministry of Interior to resume its activities after it was hit with an ostensibly one-month suspension for allegedly violating the controversial Law on Associations and NGOs, Vuthy said yesterday. The suspension was first imposed almost four months ago, in late September.

On Friday afternoon, Vichet on Facebook lashed out at the NGO. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror???” he wrote. “You yourself commit corruption through stealing donor money and put it into your own accounts and bribe the court, violate rights and threaten staff, and put work pressure on and force staff to resign through your lead – do you have a conscience to look at yourself?”

Vichet alleged that EC incited people and divided communities it worked with. “And with this I have not raised your revolution plan,” he added, explaining that he would provide evidence on TV when he had the opportunity.

Vuthy declined to comment on the allegations.

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