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Cambodian Court Jails 3rd Human Rights Activist

A court in Cambodia has jailed a human rights activist on charges of defamation - the third to be detained in a week. A local human rights group believes the crackdown shows the government's fear of the growing opposition movement.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Pa Nguon Tieng, the deputy director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, with defamation - a criminal offense in this Southeast Asian nation - and jailed him pending trial.

The charges stem from a banner carrying messages critical of the government. The banner was displayed at an event Pa Nguon Tieng helped plan to mark International Human Rights Day last month.

The spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights says Pa Nguon Tieng was targeted because his radio programs and public forums have mobilized people across the country into a democratic movement.

Spokesman Ou Virak says the defamation charge is unfounded and shows the government is worried about the opposition.

"It shows that the government failed to accept criticism, failed to show tolerance," said Ou Virak. "It also shows that the government maybe is fearful, the leader maybe is fearful of a democratic society. Maybe they fear they lose control, their grips on power."

Police detained Pa Nguon Tieng as he was preparing to cross the border into Laos late Wednesday.

His colleague, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Kem Sokha, and the director of the Cambodian Legal Education Center, Yeng Virak, were also jailed Saturday for their involvement with the controversial banner.

The State Department and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have condemned those detentions.

The government has defended the defamation lawsuits, saying the banner accused it of selling Cambodian land to Vietnam and it has to protect its reputation.

Prime Minister Hun Sen recently signed a border agreement with Vietnam that political opponents claim compromises Cambodian territory.

A Cambodian court also convicted opposition leader Sam Rainsy in absentia last month for defaming the government, while another opposition lawmaker is in jail for heading a shadow cabinet the government says was an armed force.