PHNOM PENH —
A prominent Radio Free Asia journalist has been called to court after allegedly sneaking into a prison to interview an activist who’s seen as a political prisoner.
Chun Chanboth, the pen name of RFA Khmer deputy director Huot Vuthy, received a court summon on Friday for allegedly falsely describing himself as a lawmaker’s assistant when he registered to enter Prey Sar prison; along with him came a delegation of opposition Members of Parliament.
As a result of Chanboth’s visit to the prison, the authorities have banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party officials from visiting some 20 party members, senators, and lawmakers in the jail.
The Department of Prisons claimed Chanboth, a US-based journalist, visited the prisoners under false pretenses last Wednesday. However, he has denied these allegations.
Chanboth, earlier that day, had reported already being denied entry to visit jailed political analyst Kim Sok, who is facing defamation charges lodged by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
A justice spokesman said on Monday that Chanboth would be arrested at the May hearing if he was found guilty.
“Journalists have a right to gather information, but the methods should be legal. If the action is against the law, he or she has to face the law,” the spokesman said.
Chanboth said he was prepared to answer to the charges in court.
“As a journalist, I just want to know the truth about whether they are political prisoners or criminals,” he said, referring to the jailed opposition members and analyst. “Are they okay?” He questioned.
Two CNRP officials who allegedly accompanied Chanboth to the prison, Mu Sochua and Long Ry, have also been called to hearings on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
They could not be reached for comment.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, head of the Department of Journalism at the Institute of Cambodia, claimed Chanboth’s actions could negatively affect the profession, but that his intentions were ethical.
“His sole intention was to obtain information. He was trying to protect the prison officials, interior ministry and government from rumors that the prison staff were torturing human rights activists,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, wrote on Facebook that the case against Chanboth was a cause for concern: “We urge the authorities to treat this investigation impartially, without discrimination on the basis of Mr. Chun’s affiliation with RFA, which has been the subject of sustained criticism by senior government officials in recent months,” she wrote.