Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Ratanakkiri journalist summoned to court for alleged incitement

A view of the disused Ratanakkiri Airport in Banlung City, June 12, 2020. Panha Chhorpoan
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The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has summoned a local television journalist for questioning  after a Banlung official filed a complaint against him alleging he had committed “incitement” by spreading disinformation in a report on land clearing at the site of the disused Ratanakkiri Airport.

Phal Dam, a journalist for TV3, said that the provincial court had summoned him for questioning on June 15 after Deputy Governor Puth Dany filed a complaint against him, alleging he had engaged in “incitement to commit a felony” in his coverage of recent land clearing at the site of the deserted Ratanakkiri Airport.

“I think that the authority filed the complaint against me because I published a story saying that some part of the Ratanakkiri provincial airport land was being occupied by a private group,” Dam said, adding that the news segment had originally aired about two weeks ago. The court summons was dated June 3 but Dam said he did not receive it until June 11.

The reporter said that late last month, he had witnessed heavy machinery clearing land belonging to the airport, so he prepared a report and requested more information from Banlung city and Ratanakkiri provincial officials, who he could not reach. Instead, the story was published with interviews from othersources.

“It is unjust for me because the authorities did not send me a letter asking me for a correction based on the media law,” Dam said. “They accused me of incitement to commit a felony, which  is serious, and it is not reasonable.”

Provincial Court Prosecutor Ngin Pech declined to comment and referred questions to the deputy provincial court prosecutor and spokesman, Ra Borandy.

Borandy confirmed the case, but said he could not comment because the case is still under investigation.

Deputy Provincial Governor Nhem Sam Oeun said on June 12 that Deputy Banlung city Governor Dany had filed the complaint against the journalist because he had published the report alleging that Ratanakkiri Airport land was being privately occupiedwithout first speaking to authorities. Sam Oeun added that Banlung city authorities had invited Dam to discuss the land use before the news spot was televised, but Dam chose to publish without their input.

“The dissemination [of this information] has affected the reputation of Banlung city authorities, which is why Banlung city filed a complaint against him,” Sam Oeun said.

He said that Banlung authorities had cleared some of the airport land and installed fence posts in order to prevent land grabs.

“The land belongs to the civil aviation [authority], but Prime Minister Hun Sen has allowed the  provincial authority to use it to build gardens,” Sam Oeun said.

Dam said that he is poor and cannot afford a lawyer, so he will request that the Information Ministry provide him one and will ask the court to delay his questioning.

Information Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn said that journalists have an obligation to follow and respect the law.

“If the journalists have a problem with some people, those people will request a correction or file a complaint against them, depending on the case,” Sophorn said.

He also appealed to journalists to share information so that they could provide better coverage.

“I encourage all journalists to cooperate with each other and provide information to each other to avoid covering only one side,” he said.

Din Khornny, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the court is an independent institution that has the right to invite all parties for questioning, and the independent media also has the right to disseminate information to the public.

“If the court does not find any evidence to support the [deputy governor’s] accusation, then the court should not charge on him,” Khornny said. “In fact, the summons from the court makes journalists scared to disseminate the truth.”

Khornny added that in Dam’s case, the journalist was simply a witness who saw an incident that he thought was suspicious, so the prosecutor should also investigate the legality of that incident.

Banlung City Governor Ngin Nel declined to comment, and his deputy, Dany, could also not be contacted.

Separately, a journalist for BTV was sentenced in absentia by the Siem Reap provincial court in March for his involvement in a public defamation case, according to the statement of the court issued on May 12.The court convicted him of defamation for using the name Bosavy Chhet and Sem Sam Aun in Khmer, and ordered him to pay 5,000,000 riel [about $1,200] to the court and 12,000,000 riel [about $2,900] to the plaintiff, according to local news reports.

The journalist, whose real name was withheld since he was charged using his Facebook name, asked his lawyer to appeal the verdict, calling the case unjust.

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