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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Textbook author, freed from jail, defends work

Textbook author, freed from jail, defends work

MORE than two weeks after his release from Prey Sar prison, Tieng Narith, the former professor convicted of "printing false documents" in connection with a textbook he wrote criticising the government, said in an interview Sunday that he is recuperating from his time behind bars and pondering his next move.

"I am very happy to be freed," he said. "I now have to rest for at least one month to clear my mind."

The 32-year-old former professor, who taught subjects including political philosophy and political science at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University in Phnom Penh for nearly four years, was convicted in September 2007 of printing false documents, an offense that carries a sentence of six months to three years. He was released March 6 after serving his full two-and-a-half year sentence.

He said the textbook "attacked" the government and accused the ruling Cambodian People's Party of corruption-related crimes. But he said the criticisms were general and did not target individual officials.

Article 62 of the criminal code outlaws "information which is false, fabricated, falsified or untruthfully attributed to a third person ... in bad faith and with malicious intent, provided that the publication, distribution or reproduction has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace".

Miech Ponn, 75, a researcher at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, said Tieng Narith was guilty only of voicing his opposition to government policies. He echoed the professor's view that the criticism was largely harmless because it did not target individuals.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, called the textbook a "ridiculous verbal attack" that had little academic merit.

He added, though, that he did not think the professor should have been arrested or imprisoned.

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