January 12, 2018

Equitable Cambodia defamation convictions overturned

Equitable Cambodia’s Eang Vuthy visits a land dispute community in Phnom Penh in 2012. Chhay Channyda

Mech Dara and Leonie Kijewski | The Phnom Penh Post
Publication date 12 January 2018 | 11:20 ICT

The Appeal Court this morning overturned defamation convictions for three staffers from NGO Equitable Cambodia (EC) brought by a former employee.

EC Executive Director Eang Vuthy and staffers Chheang Phea and Phen Kimsong were found guilty of public defamation by a Phnom Penh court in August 2016 over an internal memo circulated among the three regarding the conduct of Chan Vichet, a former employee of the land rights NGO.

While EC maintained that the memo detailing Vichet’s conduct had been kept confidential, Vichet claimed it had been discussed with his co-workers, giving him grounds for the lawsuit.

Judge Nhoung Thol this morning said there was no evidence to back Vichet’s charges that the memo constituted public defamation and overturned the conviction, according to court spokesman Touch Tharith.

After the hearing, Vuthy only said he was relieved to have received a favourable verdict.

“Yes, the Appeal Court overturned the verdict. We are of course very pleased with the result and grateful to the court for delivering this decision,” he said via text message.

The three were each handed an approximately $2,000 fine and ordered to pay around $2,400 as compensation to Vichet, after a lower court found them guilty despite a prosecutor’s admission at the time that there was no evidence to back the accusations.

As an Equitable Cambodia employee, Vichet worked with local communities in land disputes related to ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s firm, Phnom Penh Sugar Company, in Kampong Speu province.

Community members alleged that Vichet had begun working on behalf of the sugar company, leading to his dismissal from the NGO.

Vichet, who did not go to the trial hearing claiming he had not received a summons, was also absent yesterday and said he was unaware of the verdict. Instead, he threatened to file a lawsuit against The Post.

“The Phnom Penh Post has published untrue things and previously has twisted my name,” he said. “Now I am preparing complaint against The Phnom Penh Post [because it] has written untrue thing.”

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