IFJ Condemns “Totalitarian Witch-hunt” as Cambodia Adds to Criminal Defamation Crisis in Asia

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned a “totalitarian witch-hunt” by the Hun Sen government against journalists and press freedom activists, following a string of recent arrests on criminal defamation grounds in Cambodia.

“Across Asia in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and now Cambodia we are witnessing the same political arrogance and the same intolerance when it comes to dealing with people calling for democratic reform,” said Christopher Warren, IFJ President. “Using outdated crime laws to muzzle the press only serves to spread totalitarian rule crushing out any sense of pluralism and democracy”.

Last week, on 5 January, Pa Nguon Teang, a journalist and producer for "Voice of Democracy", was formally charged as an accomplice to criminal defamation because of his participation in a demonstration on Human Rights Day on 10 December last year. The day before, Nguon Teang had been arrested at the Dom Kralor border crossing in Stung Treng district between Cambodia and Laos, after police had received orders from the authorities in Phnom Penh.

The news came just days after Kem Sokha, one of the most outspoken critics of the Cambodian totalitarian regime was also arrested. In 2002 Kem Sokha founded Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and started a popular radio programme, "Voice of Democracy", which provides a platform for Cambodians to publicly criticise the government.

If convicted, Sokha and Nguon Teang could each face up to one year in jail, be fined up to 10 million riels (€2,000), or both. Both men were arrested on 31 December 2005 and are being detained at Prey Sar Prison.

“The government’s attempt to tighten its grip on the media landscape in Cambodia is intolerable and now we have a vendetta against journalists challenging this state of affairs,” said Warren. “Not only is the Prime Minister guilty of harassment and intimidation of journalists, it appears he is ready to use the courts to try to eliminate any criticism.”

According to the IFJ’s affiliate, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ), Cambodian authorities have filed at least nine criminal defamation cases in recent months to silence critics. Beehive Radio 105 FM journalist director Mam Sonando faces criminal defamation charges for critical reports he aired about the treaty with Vietnam. Hang Sakorn, editor of the newspaper "Ponleu Samaki", faces defamation charges for alleging that a provincial prosecutor accepted a US$3,000 bribe which influenced his decision in a politically charged land dispute case.

The IFJ says that these detentions form part of a crackdown launched by the Hun Sen government against its critics in October, to silence criticism of the government's special border agreement with Vietnam.

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