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Cambodia 16 June 2008

Newspaper publisher freed but still faces trial

Reporters Without Borders welcomes yesterday’s release of Dam Sith, the publisher of the Khmer-language daily Moneaksekar Khmer. As he left the Phnom Penh prison where he had been held since 8 June, he thanked “embassies, journalists’ organisations, members of the Sam Rainsy Party, especially Sam Rainsy, and [Prime Minister] Hun Sen,” for interceding on his behalf. He added that he did not intend to stop criticising the government in his newspaper.

In a letter the previous day to the president of the Phnom Penh court in charge of the case, the prime minister requested Dam Sith’s release and pledged to “personally” act as his guarantor, although they are political opponents.

Dam Sith is still facing trial on charges of libel and false information brought by foreign minister Hor Namhong.


Opposition newspaper publisher arrested and local radio station closed a few weeks ahead of parliamentary elections

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest of Dam Sith, the publisher of the Khmer-language daily Moneaksekar Khmer (“Khmer Conscience”), on 8 June on charges of libel and false information that were brought against him by foreign minister Hor Namhong. Dam Sith is also an opposition candidate in next month’s parliamentary elections.

“Dam Sith’s arrest violates both press freedom and political pluralism, and we call for his release, especially as Cambodia decriminalised defamation in 2006,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government must let journalists cover both the elections and the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders freely. Full light has not yet been shed on the involvement of some current politicians in the Khmer Rouge regime. Although this needs to be done, it should not be used as a pretext for settling political scores.”

Dam Sith (wearing blue suit) taken away by military police in Phnom Penh.

Aged 39, Dam Sith was arrested in Phnom Penh on the morning of 8 June on a warrant issued by judge Chhay Kong, who then ordered him placed in pretrial custody after he had been questioned for several hours.

He has been charged with libelling the foreign minister and the economy minister by publishing an interview in which Sam Rainsy, the main opposition leader and head of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), accused them of collaborating with the Khmer Rouge. Sam Rainsy was not arrested.

The complaint was brought by the foreign minister, who has successfully sued people in the past after they accused him of Khmer Rouge links. Information minister Khieu Kanharith yesterday said he asked the court to free Dam Sith on bail pending the outcome of the investigation.

Dam Sith is a member of the SRP steering committee and an SRP candidate for a Phnom Penh district in the parliamentary elections due to be held on 27 July.

In a separate development, the information minister on 28 May ordered the closure of Angkor Râtha, a radio station located on the banks of the Mekong river in the eastern province of Kratié, on 28 May on the grounds that it sold air time to the SRP and the Norodom Ranariddh Party, another opposition party.

The opposition parties, including the Human Rights Party, described the closure as “abusive” and “illegal”, and as a violation of the constitutional right to information. Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to allow the station to resume broadcasting immediately.

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