The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a decision against a Rasmei Kampuchea Daily journalist based in Ratanakkiri who was ordered to pay compensation of 10 million riel ($2,500) to former Bokeo district Military Police commander Phon Chey and a fine of $250 for wrongly accusing him of being behind forest clearing.
Journalist Prak Sovann expressed disappointment that the verdict was upheld when reached by phone following the ruling, saying he could not afford the penalties.
He said what he reported was the news he had in hand at the time because he had obtained information from the people saying that a person named Chey was behind the forest clearing.
Sovann said he also phoned a source to confirm the name. The source answered that the person responsible was Phon Chey.
Sovann noted that citing the interview with the source, he put quotes into the article. After the article was published, the person responsible turned out to be named Sok Chey, not Phon Chey, he said.
“It is also the case of the press organisation [Rasmei Kampuchea Daily] and the editor-in-chief Pen Samithy, who has passed away. How can I be fully responsible?
“I would like the Ministry of Justice to give justice to me, especially Samdech Hun Sen, who always forgives journalists,” he said.
Sovann published his article in 2013 saying that Chey was behind the clearing of 80ha of state forest land in Lumphat district.
After publication, Chey demanded Sovann make a correction and re-publish the article. But Sovann demanded Chey provide evidence in order for him to make a correction.
Chey did not provide the evidence and Sovann did not make any correction either.
Due to the fact that there was no correction or republication, Chey filed a complaint against Sovann at the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court demanding $5,000 in compensation.
The provincial court announced a verdict on February 28, 2014, ordering Sovann to pay Chey compensation of $2,500 and ordered he be fined $250 for spreading false information under Article 10 of the Press Law.
At the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Judge Kong Srim said the provincial court and then the Appeal Court in 2015 had made the right decisions to uphold their verdicts.
“After the court’s consideration, the byline Ban Lung was simply put on the report in order that the writer’s name was not known, but the reporting was by Prak Sovann. The court decides to uphold the Appeal Court’s ruling,” Judge Srim said.