Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday again delayed the hearing of a case against Deborah Krisher-Steele, the deputy publisher of the shuttered Cambodia Daily who is accused of defamation and owing $6.3 million in taxes.
Presiding Judge Seng Leang resumed the hearing after it was postponed on March 22, following the General Department of Taxation’s lawsuit against Ms Krisher-Steele in September.
The lawsuit accused the deputy publisher of defamation for accusing tax officials of leaking confidential tax documents to Fresh News during a month-long battle over the tax bill.
Ham Sunrith, defence lawyer for Ms Krisher-Steele, asked the presiding judge to summon Fresh News to testify over the leaked tax documents.
“We asked to submit more evidence of leak of the tax document that was posted on Fresh News,” Mr Sunrith said. “Fresh News needs to be summoned and they must answer questions.”
Judge Leang responded by saying that the court will need more time to consider summoning Fresh News and decided to postpone the hearing once more.
“This case is complicated.” the judge said. “The need to summon Fresh News will be considered.”
Ms Krisher-Steele was absent during the hearing, but she prepared a statement for the court which was read during the hearing.
“I learned about the trial after being contacted by media outlets in Cambodia who say they saw this case posted on the court noticeboard,” she said in the statement. “To this date I have never been contacted by the court or informed of the trial or invited to be questioned.”
“My statements were made after the GDT began discussing my case publicly,” she added. “I fully intended to keep the tax discussions private, which the law requires. When the GDT would not stop discussing the tax situation, I was exercising my right to freedom of speech enshrined in the Cambodian constitution.”
Ms Krisher-Steele asked the court to drop all charges.
After publishing for 24 years, the Daily ceased operations last September, claiming the government was using an arbitrary tax bill to silence an independent media outlet.