IFJ Condemns Government Crackdown on Free Speech in Cambodia

The International Federation of Journalists today condemnded the Cambodian Government over the recent crackdown on the media resulting in a climate of fear amongst journalists.

Frequent arrests of government critics and military attacks on Cambodian journalists have lead to concern that the human rights situation in Cambodia is taking a backward turn.

The IFJ calls on the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and government authorities to respect Cambodian citizen’s right to free speech and to stop attacks on government critics.

“The recent attacks and jailing of government critics is a huge step back for human rights in Cambodia,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.

“The government is using defamation law as a weapon to silence journalists and it is having an adverse affect on the media’s role as society’s watchdog,” said the IFJ president.

“The use of violence and criminal defamation against journalists is unacceptable,” said Warren.

This recent clamp down on dissent is the worst since the aftermath of Hun Sen’s coup in 1997 when many journalists were threatened and lost their lives while reporting on political rallies and illegal activities.

Defamation arrests

The recent spate of crackdowns began after Hun Sen’s signing of a controversial border treaty with Vietnam on October 10.

On October 15, police arrested Cambodia Watchdog Council, a nongovernmental organisation, member Rong Chhun. Chhun was attempting to cross the border into Thailand to seek asylum at the time of his arrest. No arrest warrant was produced.

Chhun was charged with defamation and incitement under articles 60 and 63 of the Cambodian penal code, which carry prison terms of five years for incitement and one year for defamation and a fine of up to US$2,500.

Charges were also brought against other Cambodian Watchdog Council members.

The charges followed an announcement by Hun Sen on October 14, stating that legal action was to be taken against four members of the Cambodia Watchdog council. The organisation had issued a statement on October 11 criticising a recent border agreement with Vietnam.

On October 11, armed police officers arrested Beehive radio FM 105 director, Mom Sonando on charges of defamation.

According to sources the arrest was instigated following an interview he aired with a Cambodian activist in France who was highly critical of the border treaty on September 20.

Cambodia’s Information Minister, Khieu Khanarith, said the arrest was made because Sonando had not presented the government’s side of the story.

Sonando is currently being held at Peysar, 15 kilometres from Phnom Pehn.

On August 31, the Cambodian Supreme Court upheld a guilty verdict against Cambodian Daily reporter Kay Kimsong, charging him under a double standard using both civil and criminal law.

Kimsong was fined US$7,300 for his involvement with the purportedly defamatory article about Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, published in January 2001.

These cases highlight the Cambodian Governments use of inappropriate and oppressive laws that are essentially designed to prevent criticism of the government.

Military attacks on Journalists

On September 29, Radio Free Asia journalist, Ratha Visal, was following up local leads about illegal logging near the borders of Cambodia’s northern provinces when a military convoy attacked him.

Visla’s leg was injured when a vehicle driven by a military lieutenant hit him. The lieutenant then fired three shots in the air. Visal had been taking photographs of illegal logging activities at the time.

On September 5, Nhen Soka, a reporter for the daily Kampuchea Thmei newspaper, was allegedly attacked by a military officer because of reports he had done on illegal logging.

The officer, who has only been identified as “Mr Vong”, allegedly punched Soka in the face, neck and chest before pointing a gun at him.

Sokha has filed a lawsuit against the officer alleging that he was beaten and threatened in an effort to stop him from photographing and reporting an extortion and illegal loggers story.

These attacks are frightening examples of security forces denying the rights of journalists and the public confidence that their rights will be respected and upheld.

The IFJ called on the Cambodian Government and authorities to immediately put an end to attacks on journalists and respect their right to free speech.

For further information, contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries