PHNOM PENH —
A prominent media figure was questioned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week as a witness in an ongoing case against the deputy leader of the country’s main opposition party, leading to concerns from rights workers that it was an attempt to intimidate civil society.
Pa Nguon Teang, the executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, had taken part in banned protests that were held as part of a campaign known as Black Monday, which was launched after four rights workers and an election official were jailed on bribery charges earlier this year in relation to the same case.
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor with local human rights group Licadho, said Nguon Teang’s role in the Black Monday protests and the fact that he had been assisting with funeral arrangements for a leading political analyst, Kem Ley, who was gunned down in Phnom Penh last month, meant the court had likely questioned him “related to the upcoming election.”
It is widely believed in Cambodia that Ley’s murder was politically motivated, while the alleged killer claimed it was over an unpaid debt.
Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, agreed that the court likely had political motivations for summoning Nguon Teang for questioning.
“The government seemed to show that it is unhappy with his Black Monday campaign and has displayed a swift and strong reaction towards the campaign,” he said.
Nguon Teang told the court on Monday that he did not know what evidence the court had, while Ly Sophanna, a court spokesman, said the judge “cannot speak about the investigation in public, because it’s a secret investigation.”
Kem Sokha, the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s deputy president, is the subject of an ongoing investigation into an alleged affair he had with a woman named Khom Chandaraty. He has refused to appear in court for questioning in the case.
The four rights workers, from local rights group Adhoc, and election official Ny Chakrya, were detained after Chandaraty apparently claimed they had attempted to bribe her to withhold evidence in the case.