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Agreement likely on Press Law changes

Agreement likely on Press Law changes

THE draft press law's harshest provisions appear set to be dropped, following

calls for amendments from King Norodom Sihanouk and at least one foreign

embassy.

Both of the Co-Prime Ministers have now publicly supported

removing the law's criminal provisions - allowing the jailing of journalists -

according to the Khmer Journalist Association (KJA).

The Information

Ministry, meanwhile, had indicated its future approach will be to sue - not ban

- newspapers who publish allegedly irresponsible articles.

The moves

follow the King's appeal, made days before his return to Cambodia on Jan 4, for

the draft law to be amended so journalists would face sanctions under civil, not

criminal, law.

First Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh later told a KJA

meeting that he supported the King's call, though any final decision to amend

the law lay with the National Assembly.

National Assembly president Chea

Sim has since gone on the record saying "special attention" should be paid to

the King's views.

Second PM Hun Sen has also expressed approval for a

change to the draft law, according to KJA president Pin

Samkhon.

Meanwhile, the United States Embassy - which had previously

attracted criticism for having "no position" on the draft law - wrote to the

government in mid-December to urge amendments.

In a letter to the

Co-Prime Ministers, US Ambassador Charles Twining said he had followed with

interest the debate surrounding the law, which had attracted "considerable

attention" in Washington.

While Cambodia should be free to develop "its

own form of democracy", the US believed it was appropriate to make its views

known on some issues occasionally, he wrote.

"In that spirit, my

government has asked that I share with you our perception that the best way to

ensure that Cambodia develops a free but responsible press is through

legislation imposing civil, not criminal, penalties on journalists.

"We

are concerned that legislation permitting the imprisonment of journalists could

have a negative effect on Cambodia's emerging democratic political climate and

on its image among potential donors and investors," Twining's letter

said.

Pin Samkhon, of the KJA, said it seemed the government was willing

to make concessions on the draft law.

But he was concerned this was

primarily because of the influence of the King and, if and when he left

Cambodia, the government's commitment to changing the law would not

last.

Meanwhile, the government has rescinded suspension orders on two

Khmer newspapers and announced it will sue them though the courts

instead.

The Voice of Khmer Youth newspaper was ordered to close by the

Ministry of Information on Jan 14 after publishing an accusatory front page

article, and cartoon, on the life and work of Prince Ranariddh.

The New

Liberty News was also closed after it quoted from the article.

On Jan 17,

however, the ministry announced it would cancel the closure orders and sue the

papers.

"The ministry does not want editors or journalists to be jailed,"

a ministry statement said.

The KJA welcomed the decision, saying the

courts were the proper place to resolve disputes with the press.

But

Voice of Khmer Youth editor Chan Rotana - whose predecessor was murdered in

September - was less than pleased with the ministry's change of heart.

He

complained that the courts were not independent and, under the State of Cambodia

law he was being sued under, he faced a fine of up to 3 million riel.

"I

would accept being imprisoned rather than being penalized 3 million riel," he

said.

Meanwhile, the Khmer Conscience newspaper has been allowed to

resume publishing after a two-month ban for allegedly implying the two co-Prime

Ministers were "dogs."

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