The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) the global organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries, has condemned the Cambodian Supreme Court's defamation ruling against Cambodian journalist Kay Kimsong.
On August 31, the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Cambodia upheld a guilty verdict against Cambodia Daily reporter Kay Kimsong, charging him under a double standard using both civil and criminal law.
Kay Kimsong was fined 30 million riel (US$7,300) for his involvement with the purportedly defamatory article about Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, published in January 2001. The article reported comments made by a senator during a parliamentary session suggesting that Minister Namhong was involved in human rights atrocities under the Khmer Rouge.
"The case against Kay Kimsong is yet another chilling example of using defamation law to persecute journalists and curtail press freedom", said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
"It appears that Kimsong was singled out for retribution, particularly considering the initial charges against the chief editor of the Cambodia Daily and a foreign reporter involved in the story were dropped," said the IFJ President.
"This case highlights that the Cambodian Government is preserving inappropriate and oppressive laws that are essentially designed to prevent criticism of government: defamation should not be wielded as a weapon against freedom of speech," said Warren.
Kimsong should have been tried under the Cambodian Press Law, a civil law enacted specifically for defamation cases. However, the Supreme Court invoked the UNTAC decree No. 63, a criminal law, which can lead to substantial fines and lengthy imprisonment.
The Cambodia Daily printed a clarification the day after the article was published and also ran a letter of response from Minister Namhong before the lawsuit was filed.
Defamation verdicts and trials involving criminal legislation and associated penalties serve to harass the press and deter journalists from reporting the truth.
Worryingly, Kay Kimsong was left without legal representation for the first 25 minutes of proceedings while his lawyer was prevented from entering the court due to a police barricade.
Meanwhile, on August 29, the Ministry of Information ordered television and radio stations to stop all on air commentary on newspaper articles.
The Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) said that although CAPJ supports a regulation to distinguish between commentary and news, concerns exist about the Ministry's continued attempts to control the media.
The IFJ continues to campaign against criminal defamation, for reasonable civil penalties and for appropriate legal alternatives to defamation. For more information, please visit: http://www.ifj-asia.org/page/defamation.html
For further information contact Christopher Warren no +61 411 757 668
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries