New York, June 10, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention of Dam Sith, editor-in-chief of the opposition-aligned, Khmer-language daily newspaper Moneakseka Khmer.
Dam Sith was arrested on Sunday by plainclothes police at a car wash and interrogated for several hours at the national military police headquarters in the capital, Phnom Penh. A criminal court charged Dam Sith the same day with defamation and disinformation in connection with an April 18 article on a speech by opposition politician Sam Rainsy, according to a joint statement from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, and the Cambodian League for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (LICADHO).
Segments of the published speech were highly critical of several government officials and raised questions about ministers’ past association with the Khmer Rouge government, a few members of which are now standing trial for genocide.
Dam Sith is currently being held at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh. On Monday, authorities refused to allow family members and others to visit him, LICADHO told CPJ by e-mail.
The charges were filed by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who has also taken legal action against Rainsy in the past.
“Dam Sith should not be in prison simply for reporting on a politician’s remarks, and he should be released immediately. This imprisonment constitutes harassment of a journalist of whom the government does not approve,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
The Cambodian government recently abolished prison sentences for defamation and libel, penalties that were once used to harass journalists. But disinformation convictions still carry three-year jail terms, and officials have in recent months used the threat of those charges to intimidate journalists.
Dam Sith’s imprisonment comes in the run-up to general elections scheduled for this July, which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minster Hun Sen is expected to win handily. Dam Sith, whose newspaper is one of only a handful in Cambodia that reports critically on the government, was a likely candidate to run for office under the opposition Sam Rainsy Party banner.
LICADHO noted that Dam Sith’s arrest comes after the Ministry of Information ordered the closing of provincial radio station Angkor Ratha FM105.25 soon after it leased airtime to four political parties to campaign for the election. The ministry had issued a license to the station in Kratie province on January 30. It gave no reason or legal justification for its cancellation on May 28, according to LICADHO.