WELL-KNOWN Radio Free Asia reporter Sok Serey and four other men charged with spreading disinformation about a Cham Muslim community leader in Takeo province will stand trial on February 9, court officials confirmed Thursday.
The five men were charged in 2008 after a radio report by Sok Serey that featured comments from the four other defendants about a dispute between Cham Muslim community leader Ry Mab and 206 villagers from his mosque.
In a complaint filed to leaders of the Cham Muslim community in late 2008, villagers from Kampong Yol commune, Borei Cholsar district, called for Ry Mab’s dismissal, alleging he had stolen 10 million riels (US$2,406) from a local community project.
None of the accused were willing to comment on the case on Thursday, but Sok Serey’s lawyer, Muong Sokun, said his client would show up to court with evidence proving his innocence.
“As a lawyer, I will try my best to find justice for my client because he is innocent and he broadcasted this story keeping his subjects confidential – he didn’t damage the individual’s [Ry Mab’s] reputation as he is alleged to have done,” he said.
But investigating judge Tith Sothy said Sok Serey had acknowledged that his broadcast contained disinformation.
“The trial will definitely be held on February 9 against the five men on the charge of disinformation, after over four months of investigation,” he said.
The story at the heart of the dispute, which also featured two activists from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and two local church representatives, led another local church representative, Rim Math, to file a complaint against the five men.
CCHR President Ou Virak said his organisation would do its best to provide legal support for the two activists, but was careful to emphasise that they were not official representatives.
“They’re local activists, and they dared to speak to Radio Free Asia, and because of that they were charged, so obviously we’re trying to find legal representation for them,” he said.
Radio Free Asia was unavailable for comment on Thursday but issued a press statement that it would not comment on ongoing legal matters.
“We hope authorities follow due process of the law, and that any court trial is conducted in a fair, credible and transparent manner,” the statement said.