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Newspaper fined for defaming foreign minister

Newspaper fined for defaming foreign minister

Defamation charges against Kay Kimsong, a reporter at The Cambodia Daily, were upheld

in the Supreme Court August 31, resulting in a 30 million riel ($7,500) fine and

questions about the court's decision.

The Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling that an article published January 13,

2001, defamed Foreign Minister Hor Namhong by quoting comments alleging he was a

member of the Khmer Rouge who sent people to their deaths.

Namhong became the director of the Boeung Trabek "re-education" camp in

Phnom Penh in late 1977, but insists he was a prisoner and forced into the position.

Kimsong's article followed up on comments made on the floor of the Senate earlier

that week by Funcinpec Senator Keo Bunthouk. Bunthouk told the Senate that "Brother

Yaem" - later identified as Namhong - sent children and adults to be tortured

at S21.

It is unclear, however, why Kimsong's article bore the brunt of the defamation charge,

as the Senator's comments were originally reported in the Daily under a joint byline

of another Cambodian journalist and a foreign reporter. The comments were also reported

in other press, including the Post.

The Daily published a strong letter of denial from Namhong, which cited the article

from January 9, not Kimsong's

An appeal letter written by Kimsong to the Supreme Court noted the municipal court

judge's comments that she didn't like newspapers and that a municipal court clerk

asked him for bribes.

Kimsong has not commented publicly on the case.

Bernard Krisher, the Tokyo-based publisher of the Daily said that while the conviction

will not deter his paper from covering sensitive issues, the case might serve to

intimidate other newspapers, especially Khmer language publications.

Um Sarin, president of Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists, said

journalists should be tried under the 1995 Law on the Press, not the 1992 UNTAC law.

Kimsong was charged under Article 63 of the UNTAC criminal procedure.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also came out in support of Kimsong.

"The case against Kay Kimsong is yet another chilling example of using defamation

law to persecute journalists and curtail press freedom," said Christopher Warren,

president of IFJ.

"It appears that Kimsong was singled out for retribution, particularly considering

the initial charges against the chief editor of The Cambodia Daily [at the time,

Brian Mockenhaupt] and a foreign reporter [Gina Chon] involved in the story were

dropped."

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