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Court upholds jailed publisher's conviction

Court upholds jailed publisher's conviction

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Khmer Machas Srok publisher Hang Chakra enters the Appeal Court on Tuesday morning.

Lawyer pledges to take case to Supreme Court after Court of Appeal rules that opposition journalist should remain jailed.

THE Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld the June ruling against Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition-aligned daily newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, who was sentenced in Municipal Court to one year in prison and fined 9 million riels (US$2,187) for defamation and publishing false information.

During the three-hour hearing, Judge Seng Sivutha pressed Hang Chakra to reveal his paper's sources for articles that said, among other things, that Deputy Prime Minister Sok An wanted to become the prime minister, and that officials in his office were guilty of corruption.

Hang Chakra refused to identify his sources, saying the move was justified under the Kingdom's 1995 Press Law. Municipal Court Judge Din Sivuthy had tried Hang Chakra under the 1992 UNTAC Criminal Code, which carries more severe penalties than the Press Law.

When Seng Sivutha asked him why he published the articles in question, Hang Chakra insisted that the articles were factual.

"I published them because this information was clearly sourced," he said. "I have real sources for this information, and under the Press Law, I don't have to reveal them."

Choung Chou Ngy, Hang Chakra's lawyer, condemned the Appeal Court's decision, arguing that his client should be released immediately. He vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

He said he believed Seng Sivutha focused too much on whether the articles were factual, adding that he instead should have assessed whether they had "created turmoil for the country", which he described as the only justifiable condition for a defamation and false information conviction.

Suong Chanthan, the government lawyer who has pursued the case against Hang Chakra, argued in court that the articles, published in April and May, had negatively affected the reputations of high-ranking officials.

He said the jailed publisher should have revealed his paper's sources.

"This is not real publishing," he said before the court. "We need to know clearly the source of the information."

Kek Galabru, the president of the local human rights group Licadho, attended the public hearing and said afterwards that the decision was preordained because Hang Chakra had been tried under the UNTAC Criminal Code.

"The court should've used the Press Law," she said.

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