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Top court hears fake news case

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The Supreme Court in Phnom Penh. Post Staff

Top court hears fake news case

The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard the appeal of Rasmei Kampuchea Daily journalist, Prak Sovann, who was ordered by a lower court to compensate Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district military police commander Phun Chey after he was falsely accused of clearing some 80ha.

After seeing the article, Chey had demanded that Sovann correct it in his newspaper, but he refused unless Chey presented evidence to the contrary.

Chey then filed a lawsuit against Sovann in the provincial court, demanding 20 million riel ($5,000) compensation.

The provincial court announced the verdict on February 28, 2014, ordering Sovann to pay 10 million riel compensation to Chey and another one million riel to the state for publishing “disinformation” under Article 10 of Law on the Press.

Sovann complained to the Appeal Court, which upheld the provincial court’s decision on December 19, 2015, after which he appealed to the Supreme Court.

Sovann and Chey did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. However, Sovann’s note that he submitted to the Supreme Court and which was obtained by The Post stated that the locals in the province had informed him that Chey had cleared many hectares of forest in Patat village, Seda commune and along National Road 76 in Lumphat district.

He also personally visited the locations and met with a family who was employed to guard Chey’s plantation.

It stated that as a professional journalist, Sovann contacted all relevant sources including Chey who claimed that he only owned 20ha. He then wrote the article which Rasmei Kampuchea Daily published.

“In the name of justice, I asked the court to drop the charge against me,” he said.

Prosecutor Chum Samban concluded that after examining the case and the facts, he thought that the decision of the provincial and appeal courts was correct.

Sovann’s lawyer Phon Sophoes said that before publishing anything, his client contacted all relevant sources including Chey. He said this was Chey’s opportunity to show evidence against the story, in which case a correction would have been made. However, he did not.

“Therefore, could the Supreme Court please consider dropping the charge against my client?” he asked.

The court will announce its verdict on February 26.

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