Monday, 16 June 2008

The Cambodia Court of justice or The Hun Sen Court?

Dam Sith (L) smells freedom yesterday leaving Phnom Penh's Prey Sar Prison, accompanied by Kuoy Bunroeun (SRP MP).

Monday, 16 June 2008
Neth Pheaktra
The Mekong Times

After an arrest and detention that has provoked fierce international criticism, Dam Sith, editor-in-chief of the pro-Sam Rainsy Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, was yesterday released from Prey Sar Prison on bail.

The release came after a personal appeal from Prime Minister Hun Sen to Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Chiv Keng.

Dam Sith, also standing as a SRP parliamentarian candidate for Phnom Penh, thanked newspapers, national and international civil society organizations, politicians, SRP leaders and Prime Minister Hun Sen for their help in securing his release.

Despite thanking Hun Sen for his intervention, Dam Sith stressed he will not change his political orientation and that Moneaksekar Khmer will continue to be pro-opposition. “I, Dam Sith, will continue to maintain my original stance,” he emphasized.

“One could say that my release is an improvement in press freedom. But for me, [the arrest] is a violation of a journalist’s rights. The arrest shows the pressure on journalists and the political sector as well,” Dam Sith told reporters upon his release.

The premier’s role in Dam Sith’s release was uncertain, with Dam Sith himself saying he had only heard of Hun Sen’s intervention over the radio.

Hun Sen said yesterday he had ordered Dam Sith to be bailed “because [I] see that Dam Sith cannot run away.” The premier underlined that Dam Sith would still face legal proceedings.

Sam Rainsy said Dam Sith’s release was “no thanks to anyone.”

“[The] arrest and release of Dam Sith is a piece of theater that should not have happened since the beginning,” he said. “[O]ur authorities are dictatorial, do not respect the law, legal procedure and constitutional law. … This means that democracy in our country is moving backwards.”

Media and civil society organizations, journalists and the Ministry of Information welcomed Dam Sith’s release.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who last week requested the Phnom Penh Municipal Court release Dam Sith, could not be reached for comment. However, Thieng Vandarong, under secretary of state at the Information Ministry said: “On behalf of the Ministry of Information, we welcome the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to release Dam Sith on bail at Samdech Decho Hun Sen’s request.”

Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), said he was “very pleased” over Dam Sith’s release. “The CCJ continues to observe the case,” he said. “We also hope that Hor Nam Hong will withdraw his lawsuit against Dam Sith and that he will file his complaint only against Sam Rainsy.”

Local human rights group president Kek Galabru expressed concern over other cases that have not received Hun Sen’s attention. She said that Cambodia “must abide by the foundations of democracy that it has promised … the right and freedom of access to information and freedom of expression.”

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