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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - R.I.P. freedom of the press, say law critics

R.I.P. freedom of the press, say law critics

C AMBODIA'S rubber stamp Parliament on June 10 passed a controversial section of

a draft press law providing for heavy fines and imprisonment for reporting

infringements affecting "national security".

Legal observers have branded

the pivotal clause as "unconstitutional" and effectively ending freedom of

speech in Cambodia.

"As far as I'm concerned they've [Parliament] just

killed freedom of press in Cambodia," said one legal observer following the

passing of Article 12 of the draft.

The observer, a UN official, asked

not to be named.

Three members of the royalist Funcinpec party expressed

opposition to the wording of the draft especially the term "national

security".

"In order to implement this law, I would like your excellency

[Information Minister Ieng Mouly] to stipulate clearly what is the meaning of

national security and political stability," said Ky Lum Ang, a female lawmaker

from Battambang province .

"If we don't clearly stipulate the meaning, it

will be difficult for us to implement this law," she said during

debate.

Her words were to no avail and the National Assembly voted to

pass the highly contentious article in less than one hour.

Ieng Mouly

defended the article and defined national security "as any information affecting

territorial integrity or the life of the royal government or the secrecy of the

royal government army in its operations".

The key clause in Article 12

states: "The press shall not publish or reproduce information which affects

national security and political stability."

Human rights advocates and

legal observers said that no attempt had been made to define the terms "national

security" and "political stability".

The clause now paves the way for the

Ministry of Interior (police) to confiscate and suspend foreign and local media

without a court order. Under the terms of the draft it allows the Ministry of

Information to suspend offending publications.

Despite earlier assurances

from First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh that journalists would not be

jailed for critical stories, the article allows for jail terms, said the UN

legal observer.

"Despite passionate requests, they've [government] kept

references to the penal code which means they can jail journalists," he

said.

"The employer, the editor-in-chief or author of the article may be

subjected to a fine of five million ($2,000) to fifteen million riel ($6,000)

without taking into account possible punishments under the penal code," Article

12 states.

The President of the Khmer Journalists Association, Pin

Samkhon, strongly condemned the decision.

"According to Article 12, we

[journalists] can not publish anything sensitive or we'll be fined or jailed -

not only local editors, foreign editors as well," he told Reuters.

Other

human rights officials said Article 12 violated the country's constitution and

international treaties upholding freedom of speech.

Article 41 of the

Cambodian constitution says "A Khmer citizen shall have freedom of expression,

press, publications and assembly."

The International Covenant on Civil

and Political Rights signed by Cambodia in 1993 provides for "freedom of

expression."

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