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Two journalists convicted of defamation, fined

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A Cambodian court found two journalists guilty of defamation on 22 September 2009 for publishing an article in which an opposition lawmaker criticized a group of military officers, media reports said.

The Associated Press said "Cambodian Daily" editor-in-chief Kevin Doyle and reporter Neou Vannarin were each fined US$1,000. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sin Visal said, "The article published in their paper caused confusion among the Cambodian people and damaged the dignity of the military officers."

Opposition legislator Ho Vann, who had also been charged with defamation by a group of 22 senior military officers, was acquitted for lack of evidence, according to Judge Sin Visal.

The "Cambodia Daily" ran a story in April of this year in which Ho Vann, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, was quoted as saying that the military certificates received by the officers in a year-long program in Vietnam were "useless". The officers sued Ho Vann for defamation.

The conviction came on the same day that opposition leader Sam Rainsy told members of the international media in a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government had been actively suppressing dissent in Cambodia.

In the SEAPA-sponsored event, Sam Rainsy accused Hun Sen of depriving the Cambodian government of hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue through graft, corruption and mismanagement of the economy.

He said that the worldwide economic crisis was also taking its toll on ordinary Cambodians, resulting in simmering discontentment among the population. Sam Rainsy said Hun Sen was thus cracking down on the media, the opposition and even civil society groups to contain the situation.

Duong Hak Sam Rithy, vice president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ), claimed in the SEAPA-sponsored press conference that some 10 journalists have been killed by suspected government agents.

In July of this year, Ho Vann, along with a party colleague, Mu Suchoa, were stripped of their parliamentary immunity to enable the government to charge them with defamation.

Last month, the same court convicted Mu Sochua of defaming Hun Sen and ordered her to pay US$2,000 to the state and another US$1,882 in compensation to the prime minister.

Doyle, an Irish national, said the newspaper will appeal against the court's ruling.

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