Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Penal Law hits Assembly floor despite free-speech concerns

Penal Law hits Assembly floor despite free-speech concerns

Penal Law hits Assembly floor despite free-speech concerns

Two prisoners are escorted from Phnom Penh Municipal Court. A draft Penal Code now before the National Assembly is set to overhaul the Kingdom’s criminal justice system.

THE National Assembly has agreed to open debate on the government’s long-awaited draft Penal Code, paving the way for its adoption in the coming weeks, but opposition lawmakers expressed concern that the code, if approved as is, will restrict freedom of expression and chill dissent.

In a session on Thursday, 12 lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party called for amendments to 43 of the Code’s 472 articles, arguing that sections on defamation offered vague definitions, posing a threat to free speech.

“We are concerned about many articles that would be restrictions on freedom of expression because the draft code sets up defamation and insults as criminal [charges],” SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann told the Assembly.

He said that freedom of expression was a basic right, ensuring citizens’ ability to speak out on issues such as poverty, unemployment, land disputes and corruption.

However, 83 parliamentarians from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party blocked opposition requests for an amendment to the draft, saying the request did not follow parliamentary regulations.

“We are the ruling party, and we have considered every aspect of the new Penal Code,” senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said during the session.

The long-awaited Penal Code is set to be debated in the National Assembly from today. If passed, which is almost certain given the CPP holds more than the required two-thirds majority, it will replace the law passed by UNTAC in 1992.

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana explained to the Assembly that the new code was drafted with support from French legal experts, and was based on international principles of the law, with Cambodia’s current situation in mind.

He added that its passage would be followed by a training campaign to bring judges up to speed on the new law.

Ou Virak, president of Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that he hoped defamation would be removed from the code, citing a February 2006 promise from Prime Minister Hun Sen that it would be excluded.

“I am also concerned that if defamation appears in the Penal Code it could affect the work of civil society [activists] who deal in advocacy,” he said.


  • Prince injured, wife dies after accident

    THE wife of former First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Ouk Phalla, 39, died while the prince was “severely” injured following a road accident in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nub district on Sunday morning, officials said. Rananriddh, who is also the president of the Funcinpec

  • Bun Heang mocks US, threatens its citizens in scathing open letter

    After being hit with sanctions from the US Department of Treasury, Cambodian General Hing Bun Heang said he would retaliate against any US national who does not respect his country’s sovereignty, has ambitions to invade Cambodia or incites “traitors” in the Kingdom to do

  • Police warn boycott FB group involved in the “Clean Fingers Campaign”

    Police said on Tuesday that they will pick up members of a Facebook group involved in the “Clean Fingers Campaign” that promotes a boycott of next month’s national elections. However, police merely planned to “educate” the group for now, but warned that if the

  • Ranariddh 'seriously injured', his wife dies in accident in Preah Sihanouk

    THE wife of former first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh has died. Ouk Phalla succumbed to injuries sustained in a traffic accident on National Road 4 in Preah Sihanouk’s Prey Nub district this morning. She and the prince were immediately rushed to the Preah Sihanouk