Thursday, January 20, 2011

Freedom of speech in Cambodia is tried by court on defamation case

- On 18 January, the Kampong Chhnang provincial court opened trial of the defamation case against ADHOC’s provincial coordinator, Sam Chankea. There were many local NGOs, UNOHCR representative, British Ambassador and Japan Embassy representative attended to observe this trial as well.  Defense lawyers asked the judge to decide the interlocutory questions, but he denied without a reason.  Because the accusation of defamation was based on the statement Chankea made to Radio Free Asia (“The Company’s act of clearing the lands of the villagers is against the law because the ownership case is pending in court awaiting the merits proceedings”) that related to the issue of ownership, which was civil in nature, and defamation was criminal, the court must decide the issue of ownership first before proceeding to the merits (criminal defamation).  The judge said that he could not allow the proceedings on interlocutory questions because Chankea was not the owner of the lands.
The evidence presented by villagers was rejected by the judge, saying it was not valid (papers indicating the distribution of lands by local authorities), while the evidence presented by the plaintiff was judged as valid (letter authorized by the provincial governor to clear the lands)
At the end the trial, the trial judge made a conclusion that, “true or untrue”, Chankea must be responsible for his statement because (1) the statement affected the reputation of the Company and (2) statement was made to the international media that has wide coverage. The court will announce its judgment on 25 January next week.
- On January 17, the court pronounced a defamation judgment against two land activist in Kampong Chhnang province. The court ordered Mr. Reach Sema to pay a fine of two million riels and a compensation of eight million riels to KDC Company. Another defendant, Pheng Rom, was acquitted. On January 10, Kampong Chhnang provincial court opened a hearing of a defamation case against Lor Peang community member (Mr. Pheng Rom and Reach Sema). The complaint was filed by KDC International Co. (owned by Minister of Suy Sem’s wife) since May 2010. The reason that the Company filed suit was because both people told a reporter of Radio Free Asia that the Company had cleared people’s lands in April 2010. During the hearing, Mr. Sema was absent. During the trial, the lawyers submitted request to court to order other witnesses and the company representative to attend the court trial, but the court denied immediately and then the lawyers walked promptly out of trial.  The were lawyers from ADHOC, LAC, and CDP.  
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