Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Reporter for RFA called to court



Reporter for RFA called to court

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
RFA Khmer Service deputy director Chun Chanboth (right) is seen standing in a queue to enter Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison last week behind an opposition lawmaker. Pha Lina

Reporter for RFA called to court

A prominent Radio Free Asia journalist who allegedly hid his identity to get in to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison to interview what activists see as a key political prisoner has been called to court to potentially face charges.

Chun Chanboth was served a court summons on Friday and will appear in court in May for allegedly falsely declaring his identity as he joined a delegation of opposition lawmakers to enter the prison. Radio Free Asia reporters use pen names and Chanboth used his real name, Huot Vuthy, to register at the jail.

A video emerged over the weekend on Fresh News, an often pro-government news service, which appeared to show Chanboth was admitted as an “assistant” to the Cambodia National Rescue Party politicians he went into the jail with. Authorities have already used the case to ban CNRP officials from visiting around 20 party activists, senators, members and lawmakers in the jail.

Analysts have been quick to portray the incident as part of a heavy-handed attempt to deny media access to what opposition figures see as political prisoners ahead of elections over the next year.

The Prisons Department has claimed Chanboth sneaked into the compound on Wednesday, effectively hiding his identity and pretending to be part of an agreed group of CNRP visitors. He had already tried the same day to get in under his own initiative to meet jailed political commentator Kim Sok, who is facing charges of defamation and incitement brought after a complaint from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Chanboth later got in with a CNRP delegation, led by lawmakers Long Ry and Mu Sochua, but did not manage to get an interview with Kim Sok. An image of the visitors log circulated online showing him listed as a CNRP assistant next to his given name Huot Vuthy.

Sok had allegedly implied in an interview with Radio Free Asia that the government was behind the killing of political analyst Kem Ley, whose murder is widely considered politically motivated.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the video and the visitors log entry were sufficient evidence to warrant issuing a court summons to Chanboth to appear before Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 2. He is accused of violating Article 633 of the Criminal Code, which relates to making a false declaration to a public body for obtaining “an allowance, a payment or any unlawful advantage”. It carries a sentence of up to two years jail. The Prisons Department has suggested he could face further charges.

“We see that his activity was clearly to fake his identity in order to have access to the prison, and another element [of the crime] is that he had illegal intention to enter an [state] institution,” Malin said.
CNRP lawmakers Ry and Sochua will also appear before court on April 27 and 28, respectively, but only as witnesses.

The summonses were issued following a meeting at the Interior Ministry on Friday, with ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak referring further inquires to the court. “What we found out is that he told a lie. However, he should go to defend himself in court,” he said.

Chanboth, who is usually based in the United States, declined to comment on the summons yesterday, relaying further queries to John Estrella, RFA’s chief operating officer and vice president of external affairs, who did not respond as of press time.

Ry could not be reached yesterday and Sochua declined to comment on the video, only to say that she was still deciding whether to honour the summons. On Thursday, Sochua said she was unaware of Chanboth’s presence until after she had entered the prison compound. “I am having legal consultation. I already said that we still hope that there will be a solution,” she said.

Political commentator Meas Ny said that Chanboth seemed to have clearly identified himself at the various checkpoints at Prey Sar, and that even if he tried to sneak in, a criminal complaint was not warranted.
“If it was not politically motivated this would not have been such a big issue,” he said. “It is not a serious case unless he sneaked in to do something bad or kill someone.”

Additionally, prominent lawyer Choung Choungy questioned the use of Article 633, which he said did not seem to fit the alleged crime.

“But with the implementation of the law in Cambodia, in some cases the court does not [need to] find a mistake, but just wants to punish right away,” he said.

A previous version of this story misidentified the opposition's lawyer as Sam Sokong. In fact, the opposition's lawyer is named Choung Choungy. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen says Kingdom not a 'satellite country'

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had sent diplomatic notes to various embassies demonstrating its stance and clarifying allegations that the Kingdom is a satellite country of China which will allow it exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. The response

  • Vast Prince Manor fun park opens to much fanfare in Kandal

    Chinese-owned Prince Culture and Development Co Ltd officially launched the $85 million Prince Manor entertainment centre in Kandal province on Wednesday. Prince Manor is located along National Road 1, 20km from the centre of Phnom Penh. It is the first major theme park project in Cambodia and

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial