Friday, March 31, 2006

Judges Told Defamation Is Still a Criminal Offense

By Phann Ana and Whitney Kvasager
The Cambodia Daily
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistracy have directed all judges to continue treating defamation as a serious criminal offense, slightly more than a month after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for defamation to be defamation to be decriminalized.

In a letter received Friday, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana and President of the Supreme Court Dith Monty told judges to continue operating under Article 63 of the Untac law, and instructed them to continue to issue fines and jail time to those convicted of defamation.
Article 63 states that those convicted of defamation may be jailed from eight days to one year and fined between $250 and $2,500, or both.

“It anyone has committed defamation by insults, without seriously damaging the reputation or dignity of an individual, the court should hand down only a fine,” the March 21 letter stated.

“Defamation that causes instability to the public and social order, or causing turmoil in political stability or national security, the court must follow Article 63 of the Untac law,” the letter contiuned.

Ang Vong Vathana and Justice Ministry Secretary of State Tuot Lux could not be reached for comment.

Hun Sen surprised many on Feb 14 when he called for the decriminalization of defamation and opposed a draft of the country’s new penal code written with French assistance, which contained articles on defamation.

At that time, the prime minister had recently won a criminal defamation lawsuit against Sam Rainsy, leader of the party that bears his name, and several activities jailed on defamation charges had recently been released from prison.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith were unavailable to comment on Monday.

“We are very, very concerned. I think essentially it shows we are going back to squared one,” said Ou Virak, spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, whose director, Kem Sokha, was among those accused of defamation and then jailed.

Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said Hun Sen’s statements had obviously been little more than lip service for international donors.

Thun Saray added that the situation is just as tenuous for critics of the government now as it as before.

“I think it is the same, no difference. People will be put in jail again,” he said.

He said that unless Article 63 is immediately repealed, it looked as if Hun Sen had been “putting oh a show” for the Consultative Group members, who met at the beginning of March.

Thun Saray also said that the draft penal law must be rewritten.

Sok Sam Oeun, president of Cambodian Defenders Project, agreed. He said the current situation creates uncertainty not only for Hun Sen’s critics and for journalists, but for government and court officials as well.

“They are still confused, too,” he said.

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