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Cablegate: Cambodia Opposition Newspaper Editor Arrested For

VZCZCXRO5246
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0472/01 1621006
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 101006Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000472

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/09/2018
TAGS: PGOV PJUS KDEM PHUM CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER EDITOR ARRESTED FOR
DISINFORMATION; MINISTER OF INFORMATION CALLS FOR HIS
RELEASE

Classified By: Political Officer Janet Deutsch for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d).

1. (SBU) Summary: On Sunday, June 8, the Cambodian
editor-in-chief of an opposition party affiliated newspaper
was arrested on criminal disinformation charges and is
currently being held in pre-trial detention in a Phnom Penh
prison. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong filed the
charges against Moneaksekar Khmer Editor-in-Chief Dam Sith
because the paper printed an article on April 18 that
included recent statements by Sam Rainsy that Hor Namhong had
links to the Khmer Rouge -- links Hor Namhong denies. This
is neither the first time that Hor Namhong has filed
defamation and disinformation charges against others, nor the
first time that Dam Sith has had such charges filed against
him, signaling this could be a clash of personal wills and
not premeditated ruling party action. However, opposition
party members and rights groups point out the incident's
pre-election timing and detention of an opposition party
member who is running for a Phnom Penh National Assembly
seat. In a signal that this is not wholly CPP-sanctioned or
supported, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith requested
release on bail of Dam Sith on June 9. End summary.

Newspaper Editor Arrested for Disinformation
--------------------------------------------

2. (U) On Sunday, June 8, the Editor-in-Chief of Moneaksekar
Khmer newspaper was arrested on charges of criminal
disinformation and was additionally charged with civil
defamation and libel charges. The charges stem from an April
18 article printed in the SRP-affiliated Moneaksekar Khmer
that included statements by Sam Rainsy that Minister of
Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong had ties to the Khmer Rouge. The
Minister has since filed disinformation and defamation suits
against Sam Rainsy, who has parliamentary immunity.

3. (U) Criminal disinformation is defined in the 1993 U.N.
Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) criminal law as
the publishing, distribution, or reproduction by any means of
information that is false, fabricated, falsified or
untruthfully attributed to a third person and is done so in
bad faith or with malicious intent provided that the act has
disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace.
Disinformation is punishable by six months to three years
imprisonment, a fine of one to ten million riels (USD 250 to
2,500), or both. Defamation is defined under UNTAC law as
any bad faith allegation or distortions of fact that harm the
honor or reputation of an individual. Such statements
against a public figure which the author, journalist,
publisher, editor, or producer knows to be false and
nevertheless distributes, publishes, writes or circulates
with malicious intent is also defamation. Libel is covered
under the same article of law as defamation and is defined as
any insult, contemptuous remark or abusive language that does
not claim to impute fact. Defamation and libel were
decriminalized in 2006 but are still considered civil
offenses punishable by a fine of one to ten million riels
(USD 250 to 2,500).

Editor is SRP Member Running for National Assembly Seat
--------------------------------------------- ----------

4. (SBU) Moneaksekar Khmer Editor-in-Chief Dam Sith is a
member of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Steering Committee and
is registered with the National Election Committee (NEC) as
an SRP contender for a Phnom Penh National Assembly seat in
the July 27 national elections. (Note: The criminal and
civil charges do not affect his eligibility for candidacy.
End Note.) After Dam Sith's arrest, Sam Rainsy told the
press that Dam Sith had been approached by a CPP member with
an offer for him to leave the SRP and join the CPP but that
Dam Sith refused. Opposition party members and some rights
groups consider the arrest to be politically-motivated.

Neither the First Time Dam Sith Has Faced Charges...
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) Dam Sith has faced defamation, libel, and
disinformation charges in the past for content of the
Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper. In 2002, he was convicted of
the charges for criticizing Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the
National Assembly and ordered to pay a fine. (Note: Norodom
Ranariddh served as National Assembly President at the time.
End note.) In 2004, Dam Sith was again sued for publishing
approximately 20 articles in Moneaksekar Khmer that tarnished
Prince Norodom Ranariddh's reputation and that of the
National Assembly. In September 2006, Deputy Prime Minister

PHNOM PENH 00000472 002 OF 003


Sok An filed a lawsuit against Dam Sith for publishing an
article stating Sok An was involved with corruption. Dam
Sith was tried and convicted in absentia on disinformation
charges and ordered to pay an eight million riel (USD 2,000)
fine and ten million riels (USD 2,500) in damages to the
government.

... Nor the First Time Hor Namhong Has Filed Them
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (U) For more than a decade, Hor Namhong has been using
disinformation and defamation charges to try to counter press
linking him to killings in a Cambodian work camp, called
Boeung Trabek Re-education Center, during the Khmer Rouge
era. In the early 1990s, Hor Namhong won a lawsuit against
then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk in a French court for statements
linking Hor Namhong to killings at Boeung Trabek. Sihanouk
was ordered to pay a fine and punitive damages; however, it
has been reported that Hor Namhong refused to accept the
money. In 2006, a court convicted The Cambodia Daily
journalist Kay Kimsong of defamation based on charges filed
by Hor Namhong. This case was similar to the Dam Sith case
in that Kay Kimsong was accused of including in a story
quotes from an individual who alleged that Hor Namhong was a
high-ranking official who ordered killings at Boeung Trabek
during the Khmer Rouge era. Kay Kimsong was ordered to pay
more than USD 2,000 in fines for repeating a defamatory
comment.

Next Step in the Judicial Process -- Bail?
------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) While some opposition party members and other
observers have speculated about whether the arrest is
politically motivated, that proposition is muddied by the
Minister of Information's submission on June 9 of a letter to
the Phnom Penh Municipal Court requesting the release on bail
of Dam Sith -- Information Minister Khieu Kanharith is a CPP
member and government spokesperson. Khieu Kanharith's letter
to the court requests Dam Sith to be released from jail
temporarily to await further investigation by the court.
Late in the day on June 10, the investigating judge had not
yet made a decision on the bail request.

8. (SBU) Under Cambodian procedure code, the courts have six
months to bring the case to trial. Dam Sith's lawyer states
that he will file for an appeal of the detention order with
the Appeals Court because the lawyer believes the
investigating judge should have questioned Dam Sith several
times before he was arrested -- something that is not
specified by procedure codes. The lawyer is also requesting
a release on bail from the Phnom Penh Court. If successful,
these moves would resolve Dam Sith's detention issue, but he
still faces a long investigation and potentially a day in
court against Hor Namhong in the coming weeks and months.

Comment
-------

9. (C) Dam Sith's arrest was carried out in an unusual,
rapid fashion. He was picked up on a Sunday morning,
appeared in court that afternoon, and was detained in jail
that night. Military police were involved in the arrest --
Dam Sith had willingly responded to a summons to appear in
court on June 5 and no police were used for that court
appearance. The investigation of the charges appeared to be
going along smoothly; Dam Sith was not detained after his
initial court appearance, suggesting he was not considered a
flight risk. When he was arrested on Sunday, one media
report stated the court ordered Dam Sith detained for fear
that he might "taint evidence" if released. The unusual
aspects of the detention point to someone pulling strings
within the Cambodian judicial system. More likely than not,
this is a personally motivated move by Hor Namhong, whose
position as Minister of Foreign Affairs after July's election
is questionable, and who is outraged by allegations linking
him to the Khmer Rouge -- he lost many family members at the
hands of the KR regime. While this might be a case of
political intimidation aimed at opposition candidates, it is
unclear who would be the author of such a ham-fisted plot.
There is some legitimate concern that even if unintentional,
this arrest will cast a pall over press freedom issues in the
pre-election period. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith's
request for Dam Sith to be released on bail is an important
reminder that the CPP may not be aware of every action
ordered and makes speculation about what might be behind the
arrest more complex. The Ambassador has sent a letter to
Prime Minister Hun Sen in regard to this arrest case, and has

PHNOM PENH 00000472 003 OF 003


requested a meeting with the Information Minister to address
press freedom issues and to ask Khieu Kanharith for his
perceptions on this case.
MUSSOMELI

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