PHNOM PENH—A Cambodian reporter and the Irish editor of an English-language newspaper here have been charged with defamation in connection with an article about the ongoing trial of an opposition politician.
The charges against editor-in-chief of the Cambodia Daily Kevin Doyle and journalist Neou Vannarin came Wednesday, months after the report on the case of opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann.
Ho Vann is accused of defaming 22 military officers with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Doyle said he and Neou Vannarin did nothing wrong in reporting the case.
The charges come amid concerns that the Cambodian government is using the legal system to silence the press and intimidate political opponents.
Ho Vann, whose whereabouts are unknown, is accused of libel in questioning the academic qualifications of the generals, including the two most senior members of Cambodia’s armed forces.
The Cambodia Daily is accused of repeating the alleged slander.
The court will rule on both cases Sept. 22.
Ho Vann maintains that the Cambodia Daily article, published April 21, misquoted him.
Doyle told the court the article had correctly reported the facts.
Prosecutor Hing Bunchea told the court that Ho Vann had “hurt the reputation of defense officials who are protecting the country and affected the country’s solidarity.”
But Chea Poch, an MP from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said Ho Vann had acted within the boundaries of the law when he retracted his comment after the lawsuit was brought against him.
“Ho Vann has done everything in compliance with the Press Law, so he has not committed any wrongdoing. This is purely a political matter,” Chea Poch said.
Am Sam Arth, chief investigator at the local human rights group LICADHO, said it appeared that Ho Vann was being bullied by the government.
“Our observation of the court hearing is that the plaintiffs seem to only target Ho Vann, Member of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party,” Am Sam Arth said.
The cases follow that of opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, also of the Sam Rainsy Party, who was found guilty last month of defaming the prime minister by seeking to sue him over comments he made about her conduct during last year's election campaign.
A Cambodian appeals court also recently upheld the prison sentence of former newspaper director Hang Chakra, who was jailed for "disinformation" after he ran an article alleging high-level government corruption.
The former director of Khmer Machas Srok was sentenced June 26 to a year in jail by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and was fined 9 million riel (about U.S. $2,250).
Hang Chakra refused during his hearing to identify sources for the article, citing protections under Cambodia’s 1995 Press Law.
He was tried under the tougher 1992 UNTAC [United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] Criminal Code.
Hun Sen has been in power for more than two decades and won a landslide election victory in July last year.
Original reporting by To Serey for RFA’s Khmer service. Additional reporting by news agencies. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.