Newspaper publisher released

June 15, 2008

Posted: July 14, 2008

Dam Sith, Moneakseka Khmer

Cambodian publisher and editor Dam Sith was released from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on June 15 after being detained for over a week on criminal defamation and disinformation charges for an article published in his daily Khmer-language newspaper Moneakseka Khmer, according to news reports.

His release was prompted by a letter of intervention sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court by Prime Minister Hun Sen that requested the journalist’s temporary release while his trial was pending, according to news reports. Dam Sith’s defense lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, said in the reports that no bail was posted for his release.

If convicted on the disinformation charges, Dam Sith could face a maximum of three years in prison. Cambodia abolished prison terms for defamation convictions last year, but officials and politicians have recently used the threat of disinformation charges to silence media criticism.    

Dam Sith was arrested on June 8 by plainclothes police and charged the same day by the municipal court with defamation and disinformation for an April 18 article that quoted a speech by opposition politician Sam Rainsy which was sharply critical of several ranking government officials. 

The criminal charges were filed by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who was criticized in the quoted speech for his alleged past role as a prison warden for the country’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime, members of which now stand trial for genocide. Namhong has countered that he was a prisoner, rather than warden, under the Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979.

Dam Sith’s release came after a major outcry over his arrest by both local and international press freedom and human rights groups, some of which claimed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party government was using the justice system to intimidate journalists in the run-up to general elections scheduled for July 27.

The 39-year-old editor and publisher plans to run for office in a Phnom Penh constituency under the opposition Sam Rainsy Party banner.