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Cablegate: Court Acquits Rfa Journalist of Disinformation

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DE RUEHPF #0127 0500847
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 190847Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1696
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 2428
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1730

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 000127

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KJUS CB
SUBJECT: COURT ACQUITS RFA JOURNALIST OF DISINFORMATION
CHARGES

REF: A. 09 PHNOM PENH 840
B. 09 PHNOM PENH 745

1. (SBU) The Takeo Provincial Court on February 19 acquitted
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporter Sok Serey of disinformation.
The case stemmed from a dispute within a Cham Muslim
community in Takeo (Ref A), where a community leader alleged
that the local imam misappropriated funds belonging to the
community mosque. In October 2008, Sok Serey, a
long-standing reporter for RFA, broadcast the story along
with commentary from two human rights activists from the
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR). The incident led
to the imam, Riem Math, filing disinformation charges against
two community members, the reporter, and the human rights
activists.

2. (SBU) In the February 9 hearing, Riem Math told the
provincial judge he no longer believed Sok Serey was in the
wrong. All five defendants were thereafter acquitted on
February 19, although one defendant who had been in detention
since October 2009 was returned to jail, as he still faces
separate charges on destruction of property (Ref B).

3. (SBU) COMMENT: Based on an unofficial translation of the
verbal verdict, the judge found no evidence of malice in the
case and therefore no legitimacy in the charges of
disinformation. Such a finding would be a welcome sign of
new-found sophistication by a provincial court. While the
statute in the UNTAC-era penal code defines disinformation as
untrue information distributed "with malicious intent," other
courts usually do not evaluate whether malice was present in
a particular incident when ruling on a case. END COMMENT.
RODLEY

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