April 21, 2017

CNRP banned from prison visits

Opposition CNRP lawmaker Long Ry seen with radio journalist Chun Chanboth, with glasses, at Prey Sar Prison. KT/Mai Vireak

Khmer Times/May Titthara and Mom Sophon Friday, 21 April 2017

The Interior Ministry has banned CNRP lawmakers from visiting detained activists after opposition leaders took a journalist to meet colleagues in prison on Wednesday.

CNRP vice-president Mu Sochua and the party’s head of security Long Ry let the deputy director of US-based Radio Free Asia’s Khmer service accompany them into Prey Sar prison, where 16 CNRP activists are held.

The journalist Chun Chanboth is now being investigated by police and could face legal action if officials prove he lied to gain access to the prison.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the opposition has been banned from going to see CNRP prisoners because they used their recent visit to promote political aims, which breached ministry recommendations.

“They took the opportunity to speak about politics,” he said. “Politicians have no right to visit prisoners. Under the law, we allow relatives and lawyers to visit prisoners and lawmakers are not their relatives.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the ban was a breach of prisoners’ basic right to see friends and family, even from behind bars.

“This is psychological torture,” he added.

The law currently grants prisoners the right to scheduled visits from family or friends for at least one hour each week, unless prohibited by judicial authorities and subject to approval from the prison director.

Mr. Sopheak said officials are meanwhile checking a Prison Department report accusing Mr. Chanboth of lying about his profession to gain access to the activists.

Mr. Chanboth, a well-known RFA commentator who is also known as Huot Vuthy, allegedly failed to disclose his profession when he signed into Prey Sar prison.

The report said he wrote his name as Mr. Vuthy, simply calling himself an assistant to the CNRP.

Mr. Chanboth yesterday denied the allegations, telling Khmer Times he did nothing to deceive or defy prison officials.

The aim of his trip was to visit political analyst Kim Sok, who was jailed for defamation after RFA interviewed him earlier this year.

“I am a journalist and wanted to know how Mr. Sok was doing since he was jailed following an interview with RFA,” he said.

Mr. Chanboth said prison officials had denied him entry at first.

“I told the prison guards that I wanted to visit Mr. Sok, but they wouldn’t allow me in. They claimed I needed permission from the court, so I walked out,” he explained.

He said he was talking with Mr. Sok’s family outside the prison when he saw the CNRP delegation and decided to try to gain entry again.

“The second time I went up, they allowed me to enter,” he said. “Local media said I lied about my name and profession, but I didn’t. The prison officials didn’t ask me anything.

“I went into the room with five CNRP officials, the 16 prisoners and two prison guards. They asked me to write my name on a sign-in list. I did not lie or cheat.”

Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap said government will launch criminal proceedings if police find the journalist broke the law to get into the prison.

“Mr. Chanboth should cooperate with the authorities,” he said.

Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng accused Mr. Chanboth of trying to create a media storm.

“Mr. Chanboth intentionally cheated his way into the prison to create news. The law does not allow people to commit fraud, so we will have to consider sanctions against him.”

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, head of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said journalists must collect information in a truthful, honest and fair way according to professional ethics.

However, he said there are some exceptions which mean journalists must hide their identity to gather information on stories relating to the public or national interest.

“For some investigative news, journalists can hide their identity to collect information,” he said.  

“In the case of Mr. Chanboth, I think his visit was a good thing for the government. If politicians visit their activists alone, they can tell supporters about the situation in prison in a politicized way. If there is a journalist there, they report the reality of what is happening, so prevent politicians from skewing the facts.”

Ms. Sochua said her party always respects Interior Ministry rules and will continue to request access to CNRP prisoners.

She said, “We hope all parties involved will be able to come to an understanding through talks. Hopefully the situation will return to normal and we will be able to resume visits to our activists.”

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