Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Int'l watchdogs wage war of words over editor's punishment

Int'l watchdogs wage war of words over editor's punishment

Int'l watchdogs wage war of words over editor's punishment

INTERNATIONAL watchdogs have joined the chorus of criticism targeting the jailing of opposition newspaper editor Hang Chakra, who was sentenced last Friday to one year in prison after a Phnom Penh court found him guilty of spreading false information.

In a statement Tuesday, Amnesty International called for the government to "squash" the conviction of Hang Chakra and hold an immediate retrial, claiming Friday's proceedings fell short of international legal standards.

"This case demonstrates the absence of an independent judiciary in Cambodia, and the increasing intolerance of dissent and criticism within Cambodia's top echelons of power," Amnesty researcher Brittis Edman said in the statement.

Hang Chakra must be freed and then articles 62 and 63... must be amended.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Hang Chakra, editor-in-chief of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, to a one-year prison term and fined him 9 million riels (US$2,161) for disinformation.

The case was filed in response to a series of articles published in April and May that alleged corruption on the part of officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.  

What the case showed, Edman said, was that the laws governing press freedom in the Kingdom were vague and were now being abused to "harass, intimidate and even jail" government critics.

The France-based Reporters Without Borders agreed, saying that Prime Minister Hun Sen's 2007 decision to decriminalise defamation had been effectively reversed by the use of the UNTAC Criminal Code, rather than the more liberal 1995 Press Law, which does not allow jail sentences.

"His government has now regrettably abused a law about disinformation that was inherited from the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)," the group said in a statement Tuesday.

"Hang Chakra must be freed, and then Articles 62 and 63 of the criminal code bequeathed by the UN must be amended."

The two statements came following a similar request from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which said Cambodian courts should not rely on "outdated laws" to prosecute defamation cases.

Jail time for journalists

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said that a one-year jail term was disproportionate even if Hang Chakra was guilty.

"We have many ways of handling journalists when they make mistakes. We can have them make corrections when they publish disinformation," he said.

"Using the law to imprison journalists is not right."

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said international watchdogs should learn more about the particulars of the Hang Chakra case before passing judgement, adding that many journalists still lacked  "professionalism".

"International [organisations] should learn a little more about why that person is in jail, and how many articles and what type of articles were [published]," he said.

"They insulted people, they misled people."


  • Government denies claims former Thai PM Yingluck issued Cambodian passport

    Government officials on Thursday denied claims that a Cambodian passport was issued to former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who reportedly used it to register a company in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong-based English language South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Wednesday reported Hong Kong

  • Diplomatic passports issued to foreigners to be annulled

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will move to annul diplomatic passports issued to those not born in Cambodia. Analysts say the move may be in relation to reports that former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra used a Cambodian passport to register as

  • Hun Sen warns Irish MP of EBA ‘mistake’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday told former Irish premier Enda Kenny, still a member of the EU nation’s parliament, that the 28-nation bloc should not make a “third mistake” regarding Cambodia by using the preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement to “take 16 million

  • The hairy little heroes saving many lives in rural Cambodia

    IN RURAL Siem Reap province, rats dare to tread where no person will, as these hairy little heroes place their lives on the line each day for the good of the local community. The rodents are the most important members of a special team, leading