A military court may pursue legal action against a Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect and newspaper publisher after the Council of Ministers yesterday filed a complaint against him.
Dam Sith, editor-in-chief of the pro-CNRP Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, published the text of a speech given by CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha last month in which the opposition leader alleged the military “surrounded” Phnom Penh after July’s election in an attempt to stifle opposition to the results.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that Sith had not responded to a November 15 letter requesting “clarification” over the article. As the case “affects military interests”, he said, the government was referring it to a military court.
“We want to know why they wrote the title and who said that,” Siphan said.
He declined to comment on what, if any, legal action the court might take.
The letter to Sith, which was signed by Siphan, called on the publisher to explain “the aim of the text”.
Sith, whose articles have drawn the ire of authorities in the past, yesterday expressed concern over the possible legal proceedings against his newspaper.
“What I quoted is not false and is not exaggeration and also is not contrary to journalism,” Sith said. “Before, [the authorities] have used the civilian court system, but now they use the military court system. This is a very serious threat.”
Sith said he would not be issuing a clarification in response to the letter from the Council of Ministers because it could be misinterpreted by the CNRP and its supporters. A video clip of the speech given by Sokha to supporters in Australia and posted on social media had been sent to Siphan, Sith added.
Sokha, who is fundraising abroad, could not be reached for comment.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said despite it being unconstitutional, military courts frequently handled cases that were not in their remit.
“During the civil war, that would make sense, the military courts would handle defamation cases. The military police should not be handling them now,” he said.