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Saturday, September 03, 2011

US broadcaster stands by its reporting in contempt of court row

Phnom Penh - US broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) on Friday shrugged off a contempt of court citation by judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, describing it as 'unwarranted.'

VOA added that it was concerned the citation could have a 'chilling effect' on coverage of the UN-backed court.

Investigating judges at the war crimes court said Wednesday that they had started proceedings against VOA after its Cambodian language service, VOA Khmer, quoted from a confidential court document and showed the document in two broadcasts in August.

The document, which was leaked this year, is the prosecution's file detailing crimes allegedly committed by three suspects in the tribunal's fourth case. The investigating judges are currently examining those allegations. 

'The careful use of confidential sources and documents that provide important insight into critical issues is a well-established practice by independent journalists the world over,' VOA argued in a statement.

'Furthermore, the documents in question have been used by other news organizations,' the broadcaster said.

The court estimated that 1.7 million to 2.2 million people died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule of Cambodia. The three suspects in case four are under investigation for their alleged roles in some of those deaths.

On Thursday, tribunal spokeswoman Yuko Maeda said the investigating judges would not disclose any details of the contempt investigation, but she said judges were pursuing VOA Khmer because 'they had already given a public warning in June [about quoting from the case four file, and VOA still quoted from that confidential document.'

Legal experts said this week that it was unclear how the court would proceed against VOA Khmer not least since the staff involved are based at VOA's headquarters in Washington.

The investigating judges office was widely criticized this year for closing its third case, which was against two former Khmer Rouge military officers, without interviewing the two suspects or investigating crime sites.

Its decision to close that case, which the international prosecutor has appealed, led to a number of foreign staff resigning from the office.

The investigating judges later denied accusations they were bending to the will of the Cambodian government, which has stated repeatedly it would not permit any prosecutions beyond case two. Observers said they fear case four would also be scuttled.

Case two, testimony in which was expected to start next year, sees the four surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The elderly defendants have denied all charges.

In its first case, the court last year sentenced the regime's security chief, Comrade Duch, to 30 years in prison after finding him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Duch has appealed his conviction.

This week, the tribunal's Supreme Court chamber said it would try to rule on Duch's appeal by the end of this year.

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