Cambodian news outlet removes minister’s name following legal threat

Independent online news outlet CamboJA removed the name of a government minister from an article about a public beating of a government critic after the Ministry of Agriculture threatened it with legal action, the outlet’s executive director told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.

CamboJA – short for Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association – reported on Thursday that agricultural expert Ny Nak criticized Minister of Agriculture Dith Tina on Facebook over the minister’s handling of a report on rice prices.

The Facebook post doesn’t mention the minister’s name. It went live the day before the Sept. 12 assault, which left Ny Nak initially unconscious and bleeding from the head after several unidentified men beat him with metal batons.

The ministry responded to the article in a letter to CamboJA on Friday that said their reporting “speculates that the attack on Ny Nak was politically motivated based on his recent baseless posts criticizing government officials and institutions.”

The article also includes the minister’s name “even though the minister has never been mentioned by name in any of Ny Nak’s recent Facebook posts,” the letter said.

The ministry urged CamboJA “to rectify these serious breaches of journalistic ethics by removing unsubstantiated claims and speculations” that hurt the reputations of ministry officials.

It also demanded that the publication remove the minister’s name from the article and that it “ensure that such malicious intentions and defamatory speculations do not recur in the future which would result in legal actions that could lead to the same outcome” of Voice of Democracy, an independent media outlet that was closed by the government in February.

Posting under a pseudonym

CamboJA, a network formed by former reporters of The Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post, deleted the minister’s name from the article and added an editor’s note on Monday.

It also added the name of Associate Editor Jack Brook as a contributor to the article and corrected the spelling of the name of an investigator for human rights group Adhoc who was quoted in the article.

“We think the Ministry of Agriculture’s request is acceptable and we’ve removed [ the minister’s] name because Ny Nak’s Facebook posting didn’t mention the minister by name, only his picture,” CamboJA Executive Director Nop Vy told RFA.

Ny Nak was recently released from an 18-month jail term for criticizing Cambodia’s COVID-19 restrictions. Since his release, he has posted comments critical of the government on Facebook under the pseudonym IMAN-KH.

His post last week about the minister came a day after he said he was approached by two members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party asking him to join the party. He said he had refused the invitation, saying he is “neither a member of the ruling party or the opposition.”

He was traveling with his wife Sok Sinet in Phnom Penh on Sept. 12 when a motorbike crashed into them and unidentified men began beating them.

Ny Nak was taken to a local hospital and pledged on Friday to join the CPP – but only if Prime Minister Hun Manet can arrest his attackers.

On Monday, Minister of Interior Touch Sokhak told Voice of America that the suspects were probably using the accident as a pretext to rob Ny Nak and his wife.

“Until we arrest them we will see what they will answer about their intentions. We will know what this case is all about,” he told VOA. “But for the preliminary [assessment] this is a violent action and intended to rob the victim’s motorbike.

‘Ny Nak won’t run away’

Sok Sinet denied that her husband’s attack was a robbery.

“To me, I observed their actions. They intended to kill my husband,” she said. “It was an assassination attempt. I didn’t lose any handbag, money, phones or a motorbike.”

RFA was unable to reach Touch Sokhak for comment on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday that the attack “shares similarities with assaults reported earlier in 2023 against members of the opposition Candlelight Party, which were never seriously investigated.”

Ny Nak said on Facebook on Monday that he will be released from the hospital soon, and he promised not to run away from Cambodia.

“This is my part as a Cambodian. I will continue to help the country until I die,” he wrote. “Ny Nak won’t run away, doesn’t hide, sell out or seek asylum in a third country but will continue to stay with Cambodian farmers forever.”

Source: Radio Free Asia