Days before he was slated to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Radio Free Asia reporter Chun Chanboth left the country on Friday for Bangkok, with his US-based employer confirming yesterday that he will return in time for his May 2 questioning.
Chanboth, whose given name is Huot Vuthy, was summonsed for allegedly misrepresenting himself as an opposition staffer in order to enter the capital’s Prey Sar prison to interview a politically sensitive prisoner. He faces the charge of “false declaration”, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.
Rohit Mahajan, Radio Free Asia’s director of public affairs and digital strategy, yesterday confirmed that Chanboth had travelled to Bangkok for a weekend trip and would return before the scheduled appearance.
Chy Vita, a senior editor for RFA in Cambodia, also confirmed to local media over the weekend that the prominent journalist will return before Tuesday, adding that Chanboth had a “task to complete overseas”. Contacted yesterday, Vita declined to comment.
Last week the broadcaster strongly refuted the allegations levelled at Chanboth, calling them an attempt to intimidate him and RFA’s staff in the run up to a “highly contested election season”. RFA also said the organisation was in the process of getting the reporter legal representation.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had been informed that Chanboth left the country on April 28 for Thailand, using his American passport, but that there was no court-imposed travel restrictions on the journalist.
“According to the court’s procedure, he was not banned from leaving. The court just invited him,” he said. “If he does not come, then it will depend on the court’s procedures.”
Chin Malin, Justice Ministry spokesman, said Chanboth could request a delay of his summons if he had any impending scheduling conflicts, but that it was up to the court to decide if it was an attempt to avoid honouring the summons.
While Chanboth will appear as a suspect, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua appeared before court on Friday as a witness to the incident. Chanboth is accused of attempting to sneak into Prey Sar with a delegation led by Sochua and fellow lawmaker Long Ry, who appeared before court on Thursday.
Sochua’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said yesterday that his client was questioned about the visit to the prison compound but declined to offer any details. Sochua could not be reached yesterday.
“I cannot say what the prosecutor asked because it will affect the [court’s] procedure,” Sokong added.