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Protect the press

Protect the press

Dear Sir,

T he deep deterioration in Cambodia where it is becoming hard to tell "freedom of the press" is a matter of high concern for the people who do think that democracy is the common value of all human beings.

It is true, journalism needs specific training and ethics. It is also true that insults, defamation, racist expressions, incitement to the racial hate (these two last which are never subject for reaction from the government) are not journalism.

But to close newspapers is not the way to improve the quality of the articles. It is just the way dictatorships and authoritarian regimes used to stop criticism. But without the right to criticize, democracy doesn't exist.

The control of the Executive - which is basically the possibility to investigate and to criticize the work of the government - is the primary and historical duty of all parliaments in the world.

Normally, in a working democracy, there is a ruling party or a ruling coalition of parties and a political opposition.

In Cambodia, all the parties represented in the National Assembly are involved in the government coalition. The consequence is a lack of political opposition and the normal balance between the Executive and the Legislative doesn't exist. The only expression of a legal opposition is the press.

Such a situation creates a special responsibility for journalists. But also for the government which should have, in such an abnormal situation, a special concern protecting freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, there are people in the different ruling parties who don't like a free press and again without learning the lessons of the past they try to force the people to remain silent. Once again, one tries to cut the voice of the Cambodian people.

The government explains that it has the duty to implement the existing law of the press which was adopted by the previous regime in the frame of a communist system. And the government says that it acts according to the new democratic Constitution. Such policy is completely in contradiction with the Constitution and several members of the government should go, or return to the Faculty of Law.

Article 139 of the Constitution says that "Laws and standard documents ... shall continue to be affective until altered or abrogated by new texts, except those provisions which are contrary to the spirit of this Constitution.

It is clear that the repressive press law of the communist regime is exactly opposite to the spirit of a democratic constitution and to specific articles of the 1993 Constitution. The SOC press law is automatically invalid by the new Constitution itself.

Democrats in the government and in all the society should remember the lessons of history. Pressures on the freedom of the press are always the first steps on the way to the killing of other freedoms, paving the road to dictatorship. It is time to adopt a democratic law protecting the press. More, it is urgent to respect the Constitution and to build an independent judiciary protecting both the journalists and the readers. Now!

- Raoul M. Jennar, Brussels

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