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Noun pledges to revive Morning News

Noun pledges to revive Morning News

T HE jailed editor of the Morning News, Ngoun Noun has vowed to restart the

publication of his newspaper on his release.

The editor was jailed on

July 9 after Morning News ran a series of stories from July 4-8 naming and

displaying photographs of top CPP officials allegedly involved in the failed

coup .

Noun's case was brought to trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal

Court on July 16.

In an interview with the Post at the court, moments

before Noun's trial was postponed and he was returned to PJ Prison, Noun said:

"I want to continue publishing my newspaper.

"[Co-prime minister] Hun Sen

and [National Assembly President] Chea Sim don't have democracy in their hearts

like I do. I did not make up my stories, I have sources, but it is a

journalist's right not to reveal his sources."

When asked his opinion of

newspapers Koh Santipheap and Reasmey Kampuchea, which instead of defending

their jailed colleague criticized and mocked him, Noun said: "This is good. It

is their right to criticize me. I would encourage it."

Noun was charged

under Articles 28 and 29 of the SOC press law with inciting to affect the good

order of society, slander, and infringing upon the reputation of high

officials.

On July 8 Noun wrote letters of apology to Hun Sen and Chea

Sim where he asked for forgiveness and said he was at fault for writing articles

affecting their high credibility.

At Noun's trial on July 16 the sole

argument presented by the Crown Prosecutor was that the letters Noun wrote were

a confession of guilt to the charges.

But Noun clarified the meaning of

the letters in the interview with the Post. He said: "I merely wrote those

letters to apologize for harming their reputations, I was not saying my articles

were untrue."

Noun also said he had not been pressured into writing the

letters.

After an interview with Noun in PJ, a human rights advocate

said he strongly suspected Noun made up a certain amount of the material in the

stories. He added: "Noun just has a habit of writing whatever rumors he

hears."

But another human rights worker said he believed that other

newspapers had run similar stories but Noun had been singled out by the CPP for

political reasons. Noun used to work as a secretary for Funcinpec leader Prince

Norodom Ranariddh.

During the hearing Noun's legal defender Nou

Tepirith, argued that even if the editor was misled by his sources he should be

forgiven just as the 300 soldiers who took part in the coup were forgiven after

being misled by their officers into thinking they were going to Phnom Penh to

fight the Khmer Rouge.

Tepirith, chairman of the legal training group

Charto said: "Why arrest someone who is merely the messenger [relaying the story

about the coup] when those who took part have been forgiven?"

He said the

Royal Govern-ment's arrest of Noun made it appear harsher than the SOC regime

which never arrested journalists. He said Noun's articles had not caused any

instability, and no modern democracy arrests journalists for such

things.

Tepirith told the court: "King Sihanouk issued a decree saying

journalists who criticized him should not be put in jail, we should apply this

decree to others. Everybody says we should follow the King who says Cambodia is

a modern democracy."

Tepirith also said he did not have sufficient time

to prepare the case and so he wished for a postponement. But he failed to argue

that if the case was postponed Noun should be granted bail.

The

prosecutor argued his case for less than five minutes while the defender pleaded

for over an hour leading some court observers to comment that it seemed like

Noun was presumed guilty and had to prove his innocence at the trial.

In

a briefly delivered decision Judge Thong Ol said: "The defender has convinced us

to postpone the trial."

Amnesty International reported on July 18 that

Judge Ol made the decision after receiving a message from the prosecutor.

Amnesty linked the message to a phone call the prosecutor received at the court

while the defender was speaking.

Human rights advocates worldwide,

including special UN representative Justice Michael Kirby, have condemned the

continued incarceration of Noun saying it is an inappropriate punishment even if

Noun has broken the law.

A legal expert said: "Tepirith gave a spirited

performance but was poorly advised [by expats] to ask for a postponement and not

link it to the granting of bail.

"This played into the government's

hands. Tepirith should have pushed for a decision then and there. With all the

international attention the case has drawn there is no way the judge would have

sentenced Noun to jail."

Noun's case will be retried at the Phnom Penh

Municipal Court on Charles De Gaulle Boulevard at 7:30 am on Aug 3.

Staff

with a black sense of humor at two NGOs are running books on the retrial outcome

and they report the odds have considerably narrowed in favor of Noun's

release.

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