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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defamation still a crime

Defamation still a crime

Recent public statements of the Cambodian government and its affiliated media obscure

facts and misrepresent the issue of decriminalization of the defamation law.

In its editorial of 3/4/06, Reaksmei Kampuchea declared that "press freedom

watchers worldwide applauded the government's declaration to retrieve criminal punishment

from the defamation law." However, in fact, criminal punishment has not been

removed entirely. Criminal punishment stands by way of criminal fines and more.

Not just Article 63 of the Transitional Law (Law) relates to defamation but also

Articles 59 and 60 on criminal incitement; Article 61 on discriminatory incitement,

Article 62 on "disinformation," and Article 63 on defamation and insult.

Conviction under the last four Articles carries penalties of significant terms of

imprisonment. These five Articles are the product of the cutting-and-pasting of Articles

23, 27 and 29 of the French Press Law (1881) by French magistrates Serge Durond and

Gerard Porcell (Head of UNTAC Civil Administration Component) who drafted the Law.

The UNTAC drafters' intention and wording is relatively clear that these articles

were meant to relate to the press.

If imprisonment is taken out from Article 63, therefore, the Press (the accused)

is not off the hook. There are three more Articles (60, 61, 62) in the Law that can

continue to be used against them, especially Article 62 which is vague and more dangerous.

So "press freedom watchers" don't get too excited - you are being misled.

Further, what has been generally ignored by the Cambodian judiciary and government

is the fact that Articles 59-63 of the Law have been repealed since the Press Law

1995 came into force (see Article 21 in particular). This Press law too carries criminal

fines.

As such, the arrests, the imprisonment and the punishment of people accused of breaches

of Articles 59-63 of the Law since the Press Law 1995 came into force have been illegal

and the police, judicial members and those who ordered arrests, imprisonment and

punishment under those articles of the Law are guilty of violation of the accused's

physical integrity and illegal confinement under Articles 35 and 57 of the Law respectively.

If the victims have not filed criminal complaints for this abuse, they should do

so.

Bora Touch - Sydney

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