Government intensifies crackdown on freedom of expression

New York, December 9, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention of journalist Hang Sakhorn on a charge of criminal libel, part of a growing government crackdown on freedom of expression in Cambodia.

Sakhorn, editor of the occasional newspaper Ponleu Samaki, was arrested December 2 over an article published in September that accused state prosecutor Ven Yoeun of accepting bribes in connection with a land dispute case. Yoeun has denied the accusation and filed a criminal defamation suit against the newspaper in September.

The Kompong Speu provincial court has not set a date for Sakhorn’s trial and has restricted his visitation rights, according to the Club of Cambodian Journalists and the Cambodian Association to Protect Journalists.

“Criminalizing defamation has a chilling effect on press freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Cambodian government to immediately release Hang Sakhorn and to uphold press freedoms outlined in the 1994 Press Law.”
The Press Law specifically bans the jailing of journalists for their writings or commentary.

On October 11, police arrested radio journalist Mam Sonando, who was charged with criminal defamation for critical reports his Beehive Radio FM 105 aired concerning a border demarcation treaty Prime Minister Hun Sen is brokering with Vietnam. Sonando was refused bail on November 4 and his health has steadily declined in cramped prison conditions, sources told CPJ. CPJ Asia consultant Shawn Crispin visited Mam Sonando’s wife in Phnom Penh last month to express CPJ’s concern.

In late November, the government issued a directive to state-owned television and radio stations barring them from reading or commenting on newspaper stories on the air, according to Phnom Penh-based press freedom groups. The government tightly controls all seven of Cambodia’s television stations and all but two radio stations. Due to high illiteracy rates and poor transportation infrastructure, most Cambodians receive their news via electronic media.

(CPJ Asia consultant Shawn Crispin reported for this Alert)