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Opposition, media plead for release of journalists

Opposition, media plead for release of journalists

Newspaper publisher Hang Chakra was jailed earlier this year.

It is just a statement, which has no power on the judicial system.

CAMBODIAN media groups as well as opposition lawmakers have urged authorities to release two journalists who were jailed amid controversy earlier this year.

Representatives from 50 Cambodian news organisations issued a statement calling for the release of Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, and freelance journalist Ros Sokhet, said Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ).

“We are calling on the Cambodian government, under the intelligent leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, to request the King to pardon the two jailed journalists,” said Pen Samitthy, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Rasmey Kampuchea newspaper.

In a separate letter to the National Assembly, 16 parliamentarians with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party also urged the Ministry of Justice to take action.

Hang Chakra was convicted in June of spreading disinformation after publishing a series of stories accusing officials of corruption. Ros Sokhet was convicted of disinformation charges in November after a court ruled that he sent disparaging text messages to CTN anchor Soy Sopheap.

A government official defended the journalists’ convictions Monday and downplayed the CCJ’s demands.

“It is just a statement, which has no power or influence on the judicial system to force them to reverse the courts’ decisions,” said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan. “The court has made the right decision to find them guilty.”

Previous appeals from journalists’ organisations, opposition parliamentarians and even King Norodom Sihamoni have so far failed to reverse the convictions. The King has the power to grant pardons under the Cambodian constitution, but a sub-decree stipulates that the Prime Minister must issue a formal request before amnesty can be granted.

Meanwhile, Ros Sokhet has written that he “regrets” sending the text messages to Soy Sopheap, according to a copy of the letter given to the Post.

In the letter, he says he never believed the messages, which appeared to allege corruption, would land him in prison.

“I wholeheartedly inform all of you that I had no intention to publicise the allegations in any newspapers, as they were just rumours,” Ros Sokhet wrote. “I am very regretful for those messages.”

Rights groups and journalists’ groups have criticised Cambodian authorities, citing a lack of press freedom in the Kingdom.

“Cambodia does not have a free media in the true sense of the word,” a briefing paper on freedom of expression in the press released this year by local rights group Licadho stated.

In its Press Freedom Ranking this year, international press watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia 117th out of 174 countries.