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Bar backs off gag rule

Cambodia's bar association has seemingly backed away from a controversial rule that would have forced lawyers to ask the bar’s permission before making in-depth comments to the media, according to an open letter written to the association on Friday by an international rule of law organisation.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists – which seeks to strengthen human rights through the rule of law – said in its letter that the bar “clarified that, under Article 17, lawyers are free to express their opinion in any radio or television program without prior permission from the Bar President or other persons from the Bar Association”.

The letter also commended the bar’s assertion that no lawyers had so far been sanctioned under the rule.

Bar president Bun Hun declined to comment yesterday, saying he was out of town, but would answer questions relating to the rule on Friday.

Last February, when Article 17 was instated, bar spokesman Yim Sary explained the rule, saying that brief statements were fine, but if lawyers “say a lot more than what the verdict is, it means you violate the verdict, which could see a criminal punishment”.

The bar defended its position at the time as necessary to increase “professionalism”, but was roundly lambasted for potentially dampening legal discourse, and for the perceived unconstitutionality of the rule.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak called the softened stance a positive step yesterday, and said it was a sign that the bar was “bowing to pressure, not just from the international community, but from the lawyers themselves”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY

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