Judge gives reporter and rights activists four days to find legal representation.
A RADIO Free Asia reporter and two human rights activists charged with spreading disinformation were released after appearing for questioning before a Takeo provincial court on Thursday.
Their release comes one day after the arrest of their co-defendant, local Cham Muslim leader Ny San, set off a confrontation between military police and shocked members of Borei Cholsa district’s Cham Muslim community.
According to Chheng Sophors, a senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, “RFA reporter Sok Sarey arrived in court for the interrogation accompanied by a lawyer. Although he was allowed to go home, the charges against him still stand. All the defendants are awaiting trial.”
The charges were brought against the defendants by Ry Mab, acting representative of the Borei Cholsa Cham, after RFA and the CCHR reported on a leadership dispute involving Cham Muslims supporting Ny San.
Chiep Cheav and Khem Sarom, the two rights activists, who are employed by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), answered none of the questions directed at them by investigating Judge Tith Sothy. Neither was represented by a lawyer.
“I reserved my full right not to answer any questions regarding the charge of spreading disinformation,” said Chiep Cheav.
“But I asked the judge to suspend his interrogation for 10 days in order to give me adequate time to find a lawyer. He gave us only four days before we have to show up again in court, which I accepted.”
“We refused to accept the charges brought against us. Instead, we advised the plaintiffs to lodge their complaints with the provincial religion department and the Ministry of Cults and Religions, and also suggested that they broadcast their information on Radio Free Asia,” he added.
Because two of the four days allotted to find legal representation will fall on the weekend, Chheng Sophors said he doubted the defendants would be able to find lawyers in time. Nonetheless, Chheng Sophors pledged that Licadho would remain involved.
“We will keep investigating this case until the trial. Today we brought in a UN representative to meet with the judge and find out more about the case, but I don’t know what the two discussed,” he said.