RADIO Free Asia reporter Sok Serey and four other men stood trial on Tuesday for disinformation charges, and judges said they would hand down a verdict on February 19.
The charges against the five men stem from an November 2008 radio report by Sok Serey about a dispute between Cham Muslim community leader Rim Math and 206 members of his mosque.
The report featured comments from the four other accused – including two activists from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and two representatives of the mosque – concerning allegations that Rim Math misspent 10 million riels (US$2,406) that had been earmarked for a local community project.
In court on Tuesday, Sok Serey said he had merely been reporting information provided to him by his sources, adding that he had passed on the story two times before finally airing it because he considered it to be in the public interest.
“I received this information three times,” he said. “The first and second times I did not broadcast it. But the third time, the sources told me that it was a big story that would affect many people in their community.”
Prosecutor Say Nora seemed sympathetic to this argument, telling the court that he believed Sok Serey had “done his job right”.
But he said the October 2008 broadcast included incorrect references to a “demonstration” that had never occurred.
“Sok Serey aired a report about a demonstration, but there was no source talking about the demonstration. In fact, the demonstration did not happen. I told Sok Serey to correct this broadcast, but Sok Serey did not correct it. That means he wanted to broadcast something bad about someone,” Say Nora said.
Rim Math, who filed the complaint against the five men, said Tuesday that he now believes only two of them had been in the wrong, and that Sok Serey was not one of them.
He demanded 10 million riels in compensation from the two mosque representatives, who he maintained were guilty.
Four of the five accused appeared in court, including one who has been held in pretrial detention.
Muong Sokun, Sok Serey’s lawyer, said he hoped that the court would find his client not guilty “because my client has enough witnesses and evidence in his broadcasts to prove that he is not guilty”.
Am Sam Ath, technical superviser for the rights group Licadho, said he believed that the hearing had been conducted in accordance with proper court procedure, but he said the charges against the five men were baseless.
“The disinformation charges should never have been brought,” he said.
“Journalists and human rights activists should not be accused of this, even if there was no demonstration, because it was an important conflict that was happening as well,” he said.