The Appeal Court on Friday heard a challenge from land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia (EC) to a defamation conviction following the termination of one of its staffers, Chan Vichet, with the prosecutor and presiding judge suggesting that there were no apparent grounds for the complaint.
Last year, Equitable Cambodia Executive Director Eang Vuthy and staffers Chheang Phea and Phen Kimsong were found guilty of public defamation by a Phnom Penh court over an internal memo circulated among the three regarding Vichet’s conduct.
Vichet worked for Equitable Cambodia and with local communities affected by land evictions related to ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s firm, Phnom Penh Sugar Company, in Kampong Speu province. However, community members alleged that Vichet had switched over to working for the sugar company, leading to his dismissal from the NGO.
At Friday’s hearing, both presiding Judge Nhoung Thol and Prosecutor Nget Sarath said that public defamation was only possible if the EC staffers’ email was indeed public.
“There is no point to show that three accused committed public defamation, because a public defamation charge means that it defames someone in the public,” Sarath said.
“At the municipal court, the prosecutor also made the conclusion that there was no evidence against the accused,” Sarath added, referring to Phnom Penh court Prosecutor Seng Heang last year.
Kimsong and Vichet were absent from Friday’s hearing, with Judge Thol saying that the latter’s lawyer, Sao Bonat, was not representing Vichet in the Appeal Court.
EC’s Vuthy maintained that a warning letter and termination letter for Vichet had been kept confidential, saying it was the plaintiff himself who had gone public with the documents.
“Even though the dismissal letter we put in an envelope as well as warning letter in envelope. After we warned him, he then had a private meeting and also posted online,” he said before court.
Reached by phone yesterday, Vichet claimed that he had not received a summons for the hearing and alleged some sort of “arrangement” in the case.
“I did not receive the summons so all the decisions from the court is arranged, and there is an irregularity in this hearing,” he said, adding he would file a complaint with the Supreme Council of Magistracy and Anti-Corruption Unit.
A verdict is due January 12.