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Journalists face fine for defamation

Journalists face fine for defamation

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has found the publisher and editor of a local newspaper guilty of disinformation for an article that suggested a military official in Kratie province had failed to crack down on illegal wood trading.

In a verdict handed down yesterday, Judge Din Sivuthy found Chea Chan Prakad, the publisher of the Meatophoum newspaper, and Sun Sophal, the paper’s editor in chief, guilty of disinformation.

The court fined the pair 2 million riels (US$476) and ordered them to pay an additional compensation of 4 million riels ($952) to the plaintiff. Neither of the defendants appeared in court yesterday.

The article in question, published in April 2009, pointed the finger at Meas Sopheap, chief of military Battalion 204 – which is stationed in Kratie province’s Snuol district – and asked why there had been no crackdown on illegal timber smuggling in a local village.

The story said Meas Sopheap was responsible for buying wood, storing it at a local villager’s house, and then selling it at a profit. A month later, Meas Sopheap filed a complaint with the court.

However, defence lawyer Soy Sokhun said Meas Sopheap should have first asked his clients to correct the story in print rather than take the issue to court.

“We are very disappointed with the court’s conviction,” he said. “It is unjust to find them guilty.”

Soy Sokhun said other newspapers had run similar stories about Meas Sopheap and he asked why his clients’ publication was the only one to face legal action.

Om Chandara, president of the Khmer Journalists Friendship Association, criticised yesterday’s decision and suggested that the ruling would discourage journalists from publishing stories about illegal logging committed by powerful people.

“It puts pressure on professional journalists who try to print good stories,” he said.

Meas Sopheap was not in court yesterday and could not be reached for comment.