Ratanakiri Court Issues Written Decision on Daily Case, Pending Appeal

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Zsombor Peter, a former Cambodia Daily associate editor, works at his computer in the newsroom in Phnom Penh on September 3, 2017, when staff produced the final issue of the newspaper. (Ben Woods)

The Ratanakiri Provincial Court’s written decision dropping the case against Cambodia Daily journalists Aun Pheap and Zsombor Peter, issued on Thursday, gives state prosecutors three months to object.

An incitement case against Pheap and Peter, dating back to 2017, was dropped during a trial hearing on November 24 when the plaintiff withdrew his complaint. The court had 10 days to issue a written notice of the decision.

Court spokesperson Keo Pisoth told VOD on Friday that the notice was issued a day before, giving the provincial prosecution one month to appeal and the Appeal Court prosecution two further months to file an objection.

Following the three-month process, the defendants could receive a final decision, Pisoth said.

Provincial deputy prosecutor Ra Borandy said he would wait for orders from his boss about whether to appeal.

“I’m not sure what decision he will make,” Borandy said of the provincial prosecutor. “It is not a final judgment yet and needs to go through the lower court’s prosecutor and then the [Appeal Court’s] prosecutor.”

Defense lawyer Sek Sophorn said he had not yet asked for the written verdict, but the appeal process was routine. He could not predict whether prosecutors would object to the judgment, but “I believe in the judge’s decision” to drop the case, he said. It was based on sound reasoning — notably the complaint’s withdrawal, Sophorn added.

Pheap and Peter, who are no longer in Cambodia, were charged with incitement after traveling to Ratanakiri to report on upcoming commune elections in 2017. The charges against them were widely criticized by press freedom advocates, including Reporters Without Borders, which said last year, ahead of an original trial date, that “[e]verything about the 30-month-old case smacks of judicial chicanery.”

The Cambodia Daily stopped printing its newspaper in September 2017 amid pressure over a disputed multimillion-dollar tax bill. Dozens of radio stations were shut down around the same time, while opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested and his party dissolved two months later.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

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