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Court Hearing for Prominent Newspaper Set for Friday

Two prominent newspapers in Cambodia, and a foreign former King biographer, will be tried separately in a Phnom Penh court Friday on defamation charges against Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Minister in charge of the Office of the council of Ministers, Mr. Sok An, defamation charges, according to court officials and lawyers familiar with the cases.

The English-language Cambodia Daily, and former King Sihanouk official biographer, Mr. Julio Jeldres, have been charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal court for defaming PM Hun Sen, in the publication and information dissemination last year, by saying that whenever Mr. Hun Sen issues threats, there are concerns that someone will be killed.

Moneaksekar newspaper known to be tilting toward the opposition Sam Rainsy party (SRP), has published an article charging Mr. Sok An of involving in corruptions.

Both Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Sok An filed lawsuits through their lawyers against both newspapers.

Court officials say that the hearings on both cases are scheduled for Friday. Moneaksekar chief editor, Mr. Dam Sith says he and his lawyer will be present at the hearing. He said the article in his newspaper was written based on news sources he had received. He says that if the charges are groundless, then the two leaders should make their assets transparent to the public. Then the writer will do the correction which the newspaper will publish later.

Mr. Julio Jeldres's lawyer, Ms. Som Mao Sotheavy, says that her client did not do anything wrong, and did not defame the prime minsiter. She says that her client and his friends only correspond with each other via e-mails that was quoted in the Cambodia Daily. She says she does not know the origin of the article published in the Cambodia Daily.

Without elaboration on the issue, Cambodia Daily's chief editor, Mr. Kevin Doyle says that he will not participate in the Friday hearing. It's not known whether PM Hun Sen and Minister Sok An will attend Friday's court hearing. Lawyers for the prime minister and minister Sok An cannot be reached for comment. Neither the judge in the case can be reached for comment.

Civil society officials are concerned about the freedom of expression in Cambodia before the election. They have noticed that the trial occurs before subsequent reporters receive death threats. Sralanh Khmer newspaper editor, Mr. You Saravuth had to flee abroad following death threats. TV journalist Soy Sopheap received death threat after he made revelations on air about accusations of corruption against officials and members of the military