Supreme Court upholds libel charge against Cambodian reporter

1 September 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Following is an Alert filed by SEAPA with information from CAPJ:

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on 31 August upheld a ruling by a lower court that journalist Kay Kimsong had libelled Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in a 2001 newspaper article suggesting he associated with the Khmer Rouge.

Kay Kimsong, a reporter of Phnom Penh’s English-language newspaper, “Cambodia Daily,” was asked to pay 30 million riel or (about 7,500 U.S. dollars) in damages to the Cabinet minister who claimed he was defamed by the story which quoted a senator as saying he had links with the feared communist regime.

The charges were filed under Article 63 of 1992 UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) Penal Code.

The court rejected Kimsong’s appeal that the case be dismissed and a new trial be set under the 1993 Press Law which limits defamation lawsuits against the media to civil cases.

The court’s decision prompted a protest by Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ), a local press advocacy group. CAPJ urged a fair trial be set under the press law in line with Cambodia’s jurisprudence.

Interviewed by the Cambodian press through a news teleconference organised by Cambodia Daily, the newspaper’s publisher Bernard Krisher, said from Japan said the Supreme Court’s decision had a bearing not only

on press freedom but also on the workings of the judicial system.

Krisher, however, said this would not prevent Cambodia Daily from publishing fair and neutral reports.

Background

The lawsuits, originally brought against the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, a foreign journalist and Kimsong, stemmed from an article published in Cambodia Daily on 13 January 2001. The article quoted Senator Keo Bun Thouk as telling a National Assembly session she learnt about Hor Namhong’s involvement in the human rights atrocities under the Democratic Kampuchea, the official name of the pro-communist Khmer Rouge regime.

The Cambodia daily on the same day published a clarification as well as Hor Nam Hong’s letter denying his involvement with Khmer Rouge leaders. A lawsuit was filed despite the clarification.

On 24 August 2005, the court, hearing the case on appeal, dropped charges against Krisher and the foreign journalist. On 31 August, it ruled that Kimsong was guilty and fined the Cambodian reporter.

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