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
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).
Ministry, meanwhile, had indicated its future approach will be to sue - not ban
- newspapers who publish allegedly irresponsible articles.
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
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
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.
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
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
Meanwhile, the government has rescinded suspension orders on two
Khmer newspapers and announced it will sue them though the courts
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.
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
"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.
Voice of Khmer Youth editor Chan Rotana - whose predecessor was murdered in
September - was less than pleased with the ministry's change of heart.
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.
would accept being imprisoned rather than being penalized 3 million riel," he
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."