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
"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
Her words were to no avail and the National Assembly voted to
pass the highly contentious article in less than one hour.
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
"Despite passionate requests, they've [government] kept
references to the penal code which means they can jail journalists," he
"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
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.
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