Cambodian journalism associations sharply criticized an April 4 court ruling
that a journalist from an opposition-aligned newspaper defamed two high-ranking
military officials and a company belonging to a leading businessman
Kim Sophorn ruled that Keo Sothea, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the
Voice of Khmer Youth, was guilty of defaming former Khmer Rouge commander
General Keo Pong and his boss, the commander of military region 3 in Kampong
Speu, General Keo Samuon.
Judge Sophorn also found Sothea guilty of
defaming a company belonging to a well-connected businessman, Okhna Mong
Reththy. The judge fined Sothea $18,000 and said if he did not pay he would go
The case arose after the paper ran a story in October 2001 using
information from a 1998 report by environmental watchdog Global Witness accusing
the two men and the company of complicity in illegal logging.
Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) and the Club of
Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), of which Sothea is a member, strongly condemned the
verdict as unjust.
In its statement the CCJ said the verdict threatened
press freedom and the media in Cambodia. The CAPJ appealed to King Norodom
Sihanouk to intervene to bring justice for those living in his
"The CAPJ considers the trial was not fair and has no value, and
the judgment destroys the worth of Cambodia's judges," it said.
was originally charged under Article 63 of the UNTAC Penal Code. The Code was
superseded by the 1995 Press Law, and the judge later moved to charge him under
Article 10 of the Press Law on the request of Sothea's lawyer, Bun Honn.
Honn said the paper did not run or exaggerate the story to defame the
company and the generals. He said it merely quoted information from Global
The paper had used the NGO's report in an article accusing Mong
Reththy's Pagoda Boy Construction Company of hiring army personnel from the two
generals' Division 44 to cut logs along the border of Koh Kong, Kampot and
Kampong Speu. All three denied that was true.