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Cablegate: Cambodia's Summer of Defamation Suits Winds Down

VZCZCXRO4203
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0745/01 2801046
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071046Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1248
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000745

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KJUS CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA'S SUMMER OF DEFAMATION SUITS WINDS DOWN

REF: A) PHNOM PENH 742
B) PHNOM PENH 716
C) PHNOM PENH 654
D) PHNOM PENH 549
E) PHNOM PENH 469
F) PHNOM PENH 387

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The summer of defamation lawsuits appears to be
winding to a close in Cambodia. The Royal Government of Cambodia
(RGC) prevailed in most cases, though defamation actions were either
dismissed or never initiated in two high-profile cases. While some
appeals and smaller lawsuits are still on-going, the bulk of the
cases have been decided and there have been no new filings for
several weeks. Attention is now shifting to the National Assembly's
debate over the draft Penal Code, and what shape defamation and
related statutes will take in the new law. We anticipate that the
new Penal Code will retain the basic elements of the existing UNTAC
code, especially since government officials have found its
defamation provisions so useful in application. END SUMMARY.

-------------------------------------------
RGC Officials Win Lion's Share of Victories
-------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) The Prime Minister secured two legal victories in his
battle with Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Parliamentarian Mu Sochua: the
dismissal of Mu's original complaint on June 10 (ref F), followed by
Mu's August 4 conviction in the PM's countersuit against her (ref
D). Mu has appealed both decisions, and recently appeared before
the Appeals Court for questioning related to her appeal of the
dismissal of her suit against the PM (ref A). Separately, following
the public admission of wrong-doing by Mu Sochua's lawyer, Kang Sam
Onn -- which included a written apology to the PM, his resignation
as Mu's lawyer, and an offer to join the Cambodian People's Party --
the Phnom Penh Municipal Court dismissed the charges against him at
the same time it convicted Mu Sochua. The Bar Association
thereafter suspended its investigation of the ethics complaint
without reaching a decision.

3. (SBU) Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Sok An was successful in his
lawsuit against Hang Chakra (ref E). Following the June 26
conviction in absentia of Hang Chakra, police apprehended Hang in
Battambang Province and imprisoned him. On August 11, the Appeals
Court upheld the lower court verdict; Hang appealed to the Supreme
Court, but it has not yet scheduled a hearing. On September 10,
Hang sent a letter of apology to the DPM, including an appeal for
early release due to his declining medical condition, which has been
reported in the media and by Hang's family members. Hang told NGO
representatives that he wrote the letter freely, received no
compensation for doing so, and asked Minister of Information Khieu
Kanharith to deliver it to the DPM. There has been no response.

4. (SBU) On June 2, DPM Sok An sued Moeung Sonn, President of the
Khmer Civilization Foundation (KCF), for disinformation. The
charges stemmed from an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) on May
26 in which he accused the government of drilling holes into the
walls of the Angkor Wat temple complex to install lights, and that
heat generated from the lights would seriously damage the landmark
tourist attraction. Moeung Sonn subsequently denied that he said
these things, and also said he was only repeating stories that RFA
had previously broadcast. Moeung attempted to clarify his position
in several interviews, and later left for France. On July 14, the
Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Moeung Sonn in absentia for
disinformation, sentencing him to two years in prison, a fine of
seven million Riel ($1,750 USD), and additional compensation of
eight million Riel ($2,000 USD) to the DPM. Moeung's lawyer
appealed the conviction and indicated his intent to request a
re-trial by the lower court, as permitted under the criminal
procedure code. Moeung Sonn remains in France.

5. (SBU) On July 7, Dam Sith, editor in chief of the pro-opposition
newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) received a summons to
appear for questioning on charges of defamation, disinformation, and
incitement. The charges reportedly related to the content of
several articles published between February and May, but the
government refused to provide specifics about the charges. Despite
this lack of information, Dam Sith, who served time in pre-trial
detention in June 2008 on similar charges, apologized in writing to
Prime Minister Hun Sen and promised to cease publication of the
Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper. The lawsuit was dismissed; the
newspaper immediately ceased publication and has not resumed.

6. (SBU) Over a four-day period in June, Phnom Penh municipal
authorities arrested, prosecuted, and convicted Soung Sophorn, a
resident of the Boeung Kak Lake community, on charges of defaming
the government. The 22-year-old man, who was a member of the SRP's
youth wing, had spray painted messages in Khmer and English on the
side of his house protesting the impending eviction of communities

PHNOM PENH 00000745 002 OF 002


around the lake to make way for a development project. The court
ordered Soung Sophorn to pay a five million Riel ($1,250 USD) fine.

------------------
Lights in the Dark
------------------

7. (SBU) There were some victories for free expression during the
summer. Ho Vann's acquittal on defamation charges on September 9
(ref B) was one such case -- he had always maintained he was
misquoted by the press and never intended to defame anyone. The
charges of defamation against Ho's co-defendants, the reporter and
the editor-in-chief of The Cambodia Daily, were also dismissed at
the same time, although the court found the journalists liable for a
civil infraction under the press law. Ho Vann's parliamentary
immunity has not yet been restored, though several sources,
including CPP lawmakers, have indicated it will not be a problem to
do so.

8. (SBU) In another welcome development, Prime Minister Hun Sen
intervened to stop efforts by other government officials to sue Chea
Mony for defamation. Chea, the brother of celebrated trade union
leader Chea Vichea who was murdered in 2004, openly criticized the
government in August for not finding his brother's killers, and
stated his belief that government forces were behind his brother's
death. Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith started legal
proceedings against Chea on August 18, saying Chea's unsubstantiated
claims left him no choice. But the Prime Minister stepped in to
halt the legal action, saying that Chea's comments were deeply
emotional words spoken by a grieving man. On August 30, the
Minister of Information confirmed that the lawsuit had been dropped.
Local and international NGOs welcomed the decision, with one saying
it proved the government "was capable of acting with maturity."

----------------------
Some Disputes Continue
----------------------

9. (SBU) A private lawsuit filed in Takeo Province by a Muslim imam
against several men continues. RFA reporter Sok Serey and two human
rights activists from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR),
Cheap Chiev and Khoeum Sarum, broadcast information regarding a
leadership dispute within a Cham Muslim community between imam Riem
Math and another leader, Ny San. Following a September 30
questioning session, the court charged Ny San with disinformation
and ordered his arrest, which sparked a riot outside the courthouse
as Ny San's supporters blocked police from entering the courthouse
to arrest him. The incident ended two hours later without injuries.
The court then summoned the journalist and human rights activists
for questioning on October 1, and the case is ongoing.

10. (SBU) A number of land-related defamation suits also continue
(ref C). There have been no new developments, and the cases
involving NGO workers in Banteay Meanchey and Ratanakkiri Provinces
remain under investigation.

-------
COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) There have been no new defamation lawsuits filed for
several weeks, and attention is now shifting to the National
Assembly's debate on the draft Penal Code and how defamation and
related offenses will be treated in it (septel). Opposition
parliamentarians and several NGOs have voiced concerns over the
defamation provisions in the draft law. Although an official
English version is not yet available, we anticipate that the new law
will not likely deviate much from the old UNTAC provisions that the
RGC has found so useful. But for now at least, it appears that
government officials are content to have demonstrated their views
through a spate of copycat summer lawsuits.
ALLEGRA

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