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Defamation suits affect freedom of expression

Defamation suits affect freedom of expression

Dear Editor,

It is becoming very obvious now that these defamation lawsuits will have a great impact on freedom of expression in Cambodia.

Lok Chumteav Mu Sochua, a member of Parliament from Sam Rainsy Party, lodged a defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 23, 2009.

Then Hun Sen's lawyer, Mr Ky Tech, former president of the Cambodian Bar Association, responded by countersuing her and then her lawyer for defamation.

On the positive side, it is great that Chumteav Mu Sochua dares to sue Hun Sen, who is considered by many as a powerful leader.

Such courage hopefully serves as a precedent for the general public in Cambodia that, legally, they can lodge a complaint against their leader if they find that their rights have been violated.

However, the longer-term effect of this case is very deleterious to the current situation of freedom of expression in Cambodia.

Mr Hun Sen does not bow down to anyone; nor does he bow to Mu Sochua's legal threat.

In response, he even sues her lawyer, who might be soon disbarred if the legal confrontation between the two parties continues.

As a matter of fact, freedom of expression in Cambodia, including that of the lawyer, is very much marred by the restrictive legal framework.

The case of Mu Sochua versus Hun Sen is another test of the court's competence and independence.

It has been observed that defamation charges provided for in the 1992 UNTAC law are mainly used by politicians to silence their critics and journalists, and the court's decision is very often made in favour of the powerful ones.

There is a consensus that criticising the government or high politicians in the government might risk defamation charges.

In December 2005, eight well-respected human rights advocates were arrested and detained for defamation, disinformation and/or incitement.

A few more are seeking asylum in the West, while journalists have also been charged of defamation.

Even though there is hope that defamation will be decriminalised in the newly drafted criminal code, the case of Mu Sochua versus Hun Sen poses a great threat to free expression in Cambodia.

Sreang Chheat

Cambodian Centre for Human Rights

(CCHR)

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