Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Free speech not for the irresponsible



Free speech not for the irresponsible

Free speech not for the irresponsible

The World Bank Country Director recently warned that the incarceration of political

figures could affect Cambodia's ability to attract investors. This comment followed

other similar comments from other critics of the government's actions, none of whom

are in the private sector. Although one can appreciate their concern to help Cambodia

on the road to democracy, their reliance on economic development for their arguments

misses the mark.

Although the business community wants to see human rights flourish, the abuse of

issues of sovereignty, ethnicity, and territoriality in a nascent democracy like

Cambodia are of far greater concern.

The protection of free speech when that speech is irresponsibly exercised has the

potential to unleash passions and prejudices held by many people. Twice in recent

years, in 1998 and 2003, demagogues have incited violence and death through the abuse

of free speech. This possibility worries potential investors far more than the employment

of laws which are an unfortunate residue of the UNTAC era.

From the viewpoint of those who have grown up in politically stable democracies,

the recent legal action appears to be a closing of the political space. However,

as I understand it, the legal actions taken against various figures in recent months

have to do with an attempt to moderate discussion of the border treaty with Vietnam,

a very sensitive issue in Cambodia. The border issue appears to have been pin-pointed

as a potentially incendiary issue, and critics were warned that the libel law would

be employed to control the situation.

If anyone doubts the sensitivity of the border controversy, please consider former

King Sihanouk's reaction to the references to the Lon Nol regime's use of this issue:

a government that tried and condemned him to death in absentia for allegedly ceding

territory to Vietnam.

For the business community, replacement of the UNTAC Criminal Law has long been a

priority. I have spoken at many fora over the years regarding the abuse of the notorious

"breach of trust" provision. UNTAC, in its infinite wisdom, drafted a libel

law with criminal penalties. This law can and should be changed, and the donor community

should be encouraged to continue to reform the criminal and civil laws.

But it places donors in an awkward position to encourage the government to ignore

laws on a case-by-case basis. Government officials respond by stating that this violates

the principle of rule of law.

Rather than pass special laws for potentially dangerous situations like the recent

border treaty, the government relied on a law imposed on them by UNTAC. The law is

antiquated and needs to be replaced. But donors should be encouraging moderation

on those who raise potentially inflammatory issues while, at the same time, pushing

for critically needed legal and judicial reform.

The government clearly links political stability with economic development. For example,

the Prime Minister devoted considerable time last October at the Government-Private

Sector Forum to discuss the Vietnam border issue. He did so again this week at the

Microfinance Summit.

The business community is not indifferent to the democratic progress being achieved

in Cambodia. For example, we have applauded the improvement in the three national

elections held since 1993, with steadily declining violence and greater accountability

associated with each successive election.

But democracy, and economic development, cannot occur if there is chaos and instability.

The government has a responsibility to maintain order, for the benefit of all citizens,

and in the early stages of democracy that may not be compatible with giving free

rein to those who might abuse free speech.

Bretton G Sciaroni - Phnom Penh

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia to make auto-rickshaws

    Locally-assembled electric auto-rickshaws could hit the Cambodian market as soon as early in May after the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) gave the greenlight to an investment project at the weekend. According to a CDC press release, it will issue a final registration