August 22, 2016 – Equitable Cambodia (EC), Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), and Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) are extremely disheartened by today’s verdict against Eang Vuthy, Chheang Phea and Phen Kimsong. From the outset, it has been our position that there was no legal basis for this case. This was made clear during the trial hearing, when the prosecutor informed the trial judge during his closing remarks that there was no evidence to support the charge of defamation.
The three accused were previously summoned to attend a court hearing on 15 July 2016. This hearing was suspended after the defense lawyer pointed out that the trial judge had also been the investigating judge on the case, which is in violation of article 54 of Cambodia’s Criminal Procedure Code. As a result, the hearing judge postponed the trial and informed the defendants that a new date would be set. The three accused later received a summons calling them to a new hearing date on 8 August, with a different judge appointed to hear the case.
A brief summary of the facts of the case are as follows: In July 2015, Mr. Chan Vichet, a staff member of EC’s Development Watch Program, was privately issued an internal written warning by EC’s management team as a result of his staff evaluation. The letter was issued by the three members of the management team present at Mr. Vichet’s private staff evaluation meeting: Executive Director Eang Vuthy, Development Watch Program Manager Phen Kimsong and Human Resources and Administration Manager Chheang Phea. Mr Vichet then disclosed the contents of the letter. Following the written warning and succeeding events, Mr. Vichet’s contract was terminated. Subsequently, Mr. Vichet filed a complaint in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against Eang Vuthy, Phen Kimsong and Chheang Phea alleging the crime of defamation.
Mr. Vichet alleged defamation for three reasons: 1) issuing a written warning without a prior verbal warning; 2) providing unjustified reasons in the written warning; and 3) sharing the warning with the offices of the Executive Director; Administration and Human Resources; and Development Watch Program Manager. However, none of the abovementioned acts fit within the scope of the definition of defamation as provided in Article 305, Section 2 of the Criminal Code. Article 305, Section 2 of the Criminal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia defines defamation as:
Any allegation or slanderous charge that undermines the honour or the reputation of a person or an institution constitutes defamation. The defamation that was committed by one of the following means, is punishable (…):
1. by speeches, by any means whatsoever, announced in a public place or in public meeting;
2. in writing or sketches by any means whatsoever, circulated in public or exposed to the sight of the public;
3. by any means of audio-visual communications intended for the public.
Mr. Vichet’s accusations against EC’s management are groundless as the proceedings followed at EC were in line with the organization’s human resources policy, and were normal internal and private procedures. At no point did EC make the communications public.
“EC supports the actions of the three staff accused in this case,” EC representative, Bun Makara, Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness Program Manager said. “They issued a letter to Mr. Vichet under strict confidentiality, in accordance with EC’s HR policy and within the limits of the law. The only reason the issuance of the letter became public knowledge is because Mr. Vichet decided to share it himself. Based on the facts of the case, and the failure of Mr. Vichet to provide any evidence supporting the charge of defamation, we are very surprised and troubled by this verdict.”
he charges and evidence presented are far beyond the legal scope of the crime of defamation as provided in the Criminal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Ms. Naly Pilorge, LICADHO’s Deputy Director of Advocacy, said: “The acts of the three accused provide no legal grounds whatsoever for a defamation-based criminal case. Even the prosecutor stated during the trial hearing that there was no evidence to support these charges. Given these facts, we expected that the charges would be dismissed in accordance with the rule of law. However, this was not the case.”
Although EC is saddened by today’s outcome, we are extremely grateful for the support we have received over the past months: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the local and international organizations and institutions that expressed support during the past few months”, stated Mr. Leng Sarorn, EC Development Watch Program Manager.
Suon Bunthoeun, Legal Counsel for the accused said: “The actions taken by EC clearly fall outside the legal notion of defamation, we are therefore extremely disappointed with today’s verdict.” Equitable Cambodia will discuss the verdict with its lawyers and begin the process of filing an appeal to the Court of Appeal.
For more information, please contact:
▪ Mr. Bun Makara, EC Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness Program Manager, +855 (0)12 958 255
▪ Ms. Pilorge Naly, LICADHO Deputy Director of Advocacy, +855 (0)12 803 650
▪ Mr. Moen Tola, Executive Director of Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, +888 (0)93 556 6643
This post is also available in: Khmer