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Cablegate: Update On Free Speech Prosecutions in Cambodia

VZCZCXRO7193
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0840/01 3171136
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 131136Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1358
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000840

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KJUS CB
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON FREE SPEECH PROSECUTIONS IN CAMBODIA

REF: A) PHNOM PENH 745
B) PHNOM PENH 654

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Two new convictions - one on defamation and one
on disinformation charges - have again increased attention on the
free speech debate in Cambodia. Both cases involve disputes between
private parties. Separately, Minister of Information Khieu
Khanarith said November 9 that the fate of imprisoned editor Hang
Chakra (Ref A) depended on Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. This
message also provides updates on the other free speech prosecutions
in Cambodia in recent months. END SUMMARY.

---------------------------------------
Text Messages and Quotes to Journalists
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted freelance
journalist Ros Sokhet for disinformation under Article 62 of the
UNTAC penal code, and sentenced him to two years in prison on
November 6. The case stemmed from a complaint filed by fellow
journalist Soy Sopheap, a TV commentator and editor of Deum Ampil
newspaper, after he allegedly received threatening text messages
from Ros Sokhet.

3. (SBU) Article 62 may be applied to a party responsible for
distributing false information in bad faith, and with malicious
intent, provided that the act has disturbed or is likely to disturb
the public peace. Ros admitted to sending text messages to Soy
Sopheap, whom he has known for more than 10 years, but claimed they
were a warning about rumors circulating in the journalism community.
Ros insisted that he never sent the messages to third parties, or
discussed the information with other persons. However, an October
12 article in the Phnom Penh Post quoted the then unnamed sender of
the text messages, saying he had received information from
government officials about alleged corruption by Soy Sopheap.

4. (SBU) The exact content of the text messages has not been made
public, but reportedly implicated Soy Sopheap in the practice of
extorting money from high-ranking persons in exchange for not
publishing negative stories about them or their families. During
the hearing, the judge and prosecutor stated that Ros Sokhet had
spoken to other journalists about these allegations, and was
therefore subject to the disinformation statute. Although no
evidence or third-party testimony was presented during the hearing
to support this statement, there may be additional evidence in the
court file, which under the French-based civil code system remains
confidential and can only be accessed by court officers or parties'
lawyers.

5. (SBU) The case also drew criticism for the speed with which it
was prosecuted. Police investigated, questioned, and arrested Ros
Sokhet on October 28. On October 29, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court
placed Ros on trial, stopping short of a decision when Ros requested
time to find a defense attorney. The court allowed a one-week
recess, but resumed on November 6, proceeding rapidly to its
verdict.

------------------------------
Allegation Leads to Defamation
------------------------------

6. (SBU) On November 11, the Prey Veng Provincial Court found
school teacher Chin Rithy liable for defamation against his school
principal, and ordered Chin to pay a five million Riel fine ($1,250
USD) to the state, plus additional compensation of five million Riel
to the principal. In March, Chin Rithy, who is also the provincial
director of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA),
filed a formal complaint with the local department of education
against school principal Yin Sovuthy for land-grabbing, alleging
that Yin wrongfully sold a plot of land belonging to the school. In
August, the principal responded by demoting Chin Rithy and filing
defamation charges against him. The local department of education
has yet to act on the teacher's original complaint against the
principal. CITA President Rong Chhun said Chin Rithy will appeal
the court's decision.

---------------------------------------
Hang Chakra Fate in the Hands of Sok An
---------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Minister of Information Khieu Khanarith told Radio Free
Asia during a November 9 interview that the fate of imprisoned
newspaper editor Hang Chakra depended on Deputy Prime Minister Sok
An, the plaintiff against Hang. Several groups, including a group
of journalists and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, wrote to the
King advocating a royal pardon for Hang. It is common for the King
to grant amnesty in certain cases around important religious and
national holidays, such as the recent Water Festival, but the

PHNOM PENH 00000840 002 OF 002


requests must originate with the government. The King reportedly
forwarded the letters to Prime Minister Hun Sen and encouraged the
government to request amnesty on Hang's behalf. There has been no
official response from the government yet, and the Minister of
Information implied that DPM Sok An would decide. To date, Sok An
has not responded to Hang's September letter of apology (Ref A).

-------------
Other Updates
-------------

8. (SBU) On October 14, the Appeals Court denied SRP
Parliamentarian Mu Sochua's appeal of the June 10 dismissal of her
lawsuit against the Prime Minister. Afterwards, Mu indicated that
she would not pursue the case further. On October 28, the Appeals
Court also denied her appeal of her August 4 liability for
defamation. Mu stated she intended to continue this fight, and
would send her appeal to the Supreme Court. DPM and Foreign
Minister Hor Namhong's defamation case against Sam Rainsy in the
Phnom Penh Municipal Court is on hold, pending the outcome of a
similar defamation trial in France.

9. (SBU) The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is expected to re-try the
case against Moeung Sonn on November 24 (Ref A). Moeung, the Khmer
Civilization Foundation President convicted of disinformation and
sentenced to two years in prison in June, has written multiple
appeals to the King, Prime Minister Hun Sen, and DPM Sok An since
then, requesting intervention in the case and reconsideration of the
conviction. Moeung remains in France.

10. (SBU) In Takeo Province, Cham Muslim community leader Ny San
remains in pre-trial detention pending a hearing in his case (Ref
A). Ny is charged with disinformation and destruction of property,
and the case is currently with an investigating judge. The two
Cambodian Center for Human Rights activists and Radio Free Asia
reporter appeared for questioning with their attorneys on October 6.
Each has been charged with spreading false information, but the
judge did not issue warrants for their arrest after questioning;
they remain free while their cases undergo further investigation by
the court.

11. (SBU) In Ratanakiri Province, the local prosecutor indicated
that authorities never carried through with threats to file
defamation charges against ADHOC staffers (Ref B). Regarding the
intimidation of the NGO workers by a local judge, the King took an
interest in the case after receiving letters from several NGOs about
the judge's conduct; the Ministry of Justice called for an
investigation (septel). There is no new information to report on
the complaints of incitement in Banteay Meanchey (Ref B).

12. In total, 17 complaints filed since April 2008 have produced 7
convictions (or findings of liability), one acquittal, two
retractions after the defendants publicly apologized to the
plaintiffs, one case dismissed by the court (and upheld on appeal),
and two on-going cases. Four other complaints have stalled without
further action.
RODLEY

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