T HE Khmer language New Republic newspaper has been singled out as a test case under
two of the most controversial areas of press freedoms in the Kingdom.
The government is - for the first time, a spokesman says - about to sue a paper under
the new Press Law for running stories that could affect "political stability
or national security".
Neither term under Article 12 of the new law has been legally defined by the government,
despite promises to do so.
The Republic News will also be called to answer charges that it disobeyed the nation's
Constitution by running stories that "violated the King."
Information Minister Ieng Mouly confirmed that the paper would be the first to be
charged under Article 12, and the first to be questioned on alleged "violations"
of the Constitution.
It was important this first case was strong "and it's right to say the court
has to give a good example," Mouly said.
Republic News, which was given a 30-day suspension order on Feb 14, had been told
for months to change its logo - the flag of Lon Nol's Khmer Republic, Mouly said.
The paper replaced the flag on its masthead with the insignia of the former republic
"so it was just the same for us," Mouly said.
"And they continued to write stories against the King, and the King is the symbol
of unity and the Constitution prohibits anybody from violating the King," he
Mouly acknowledged that the paper was suspended under Article 12, and for violation
of the Constitution.
Though allegations of lese Majeste have been leveled against New Republic, the King
has publicly spoken out against criminal sanctions being enshrined against journalists.
"No one will be arrested, or threatened, or reprimanded because of me. The court
will not try and, even less, sentence any newspaper or journalist because of me,"
he said in Jan 1994. The King has also said that journalists should be freely allowed
to criticize anyone.
Mouly acknowledged that there was "still a problem" that, despite his promises,
there had been no legal definition of "political stability" and "national
"We can say that [the newspaper] violated the King and political stability so
the court will be able to decide this," he said.
Legal observers contacted by the Post were worried about the implications of the
case against the New Republic.
"Ieng Mouly thinks this is an ideal test case?" said one Western lawyer.
"Well so do I... it's going to be a perfect example of how a badly drafted law
is going to be badly used." All the initial criticisms and fears about the law
were now about to be proved right, he said.
Mouly said that though the law had been criticized, he believed it was still liberal
in comparison with other Asian nations.
The Western lawyer, however, said: "'Political stability' and 'National security'
will mean whatever the government wants them to mean... today they're for stories
against the King, tomorrow they'll be for stories critical of the Prime Ministers.
"Promises made [by the National Assembly] to define the terms have been broken
- and I question whether they were ever going to define the terms. [Those terms]
are dangerous anyway because they were always going to be used for political purposes."
The Constitution was not a "law" that could be broken, nor used as a "weapon",
he said. Constitutional articles had to be enshrined in law, "so there are no
penalties as such for violating the Constitution."
Mouly told the Post that a law would be drafted "in the future" relating
to the immunity of the Royal Family - which presumably would be used in the future
to test allegations similar to those now being faced by the New Republic. Human Rights
workers told the Post they had no reason to believe such a law was in the pipeline.