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Radio Free Asia reporter to face judge

Radio Free Asia reporter to face judge

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Left to right, Pen Bonnar, Chhay Thy, Ou Virak and Sok Ratha stand outside Ratanakkiri Provincial Court last month, October 2012. Photograph supplied

A Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporter in Ratanakkiri province will be questioned at the provincial court today in relation to claims that he incited villagers to commit crimes against a rubber company that they have been locked in a land dispute with since 2004.

Lim Chanlyda, defence lawyer for accused journalist Sok Ratha, also known as Ratha Visal, told the Post yesterday that her client had been accused in 2009 of inciting the ethnic Tumpoun villagers in Lumphat district to rebel against DM Group, which was awarded land there in 2004.

“This is a preliminary inquiry made by the deputy provincial prosecutor,” she said. “I will be attending as a defence lawyer to represent my client.”

Chanlyda said she would meet deputy prosecutor Chea Sopheak this morning and was confident of a positive outcome for Ratha.

Pen Bonnar and Chhay Thy, two provincial officers from human rights group Adhoc, and Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, were questioned in court last month over the claims, after a complaint was filed by the chief of Batang commune.

The complaint relates to Adhoc offering legal advice to villagers regarding their dispute with DM Group over 260 hectares of land and Radio Free Asia’s reporting on the issue.

Ratha was summonsed to court early last month to answer questions – at the same time as the other three – but was granted a postponement.

Am Sam Ath, technical adviser for rights group Licadho, said the court action was an example of the rich and powerful using their influence to undermine freedom of expression and suppress villagers, NGOs and journalists who stood in their way.

“In Ratanakkiri, the [rich and powerful] use the court to threaten the rights of expression of the residents by suing human rights groups and journalists who give them support in land disputes,” he said.

“This has a serious effect on democracy,” he said.

Asked why the case had surfaced three years after the complaint was filed, Chea Sopheak told the Post that the court had been dealing with a huge backlog of cases.

“It’s a mountain of cases,” he said. “Because of this, it takes time to review them.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at [email protected]

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