January 13, 2006
His Excellency Hun Sen
Office of the Prime Minister
Royal Government of Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Via facsimile: 855-12-813-781
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrests and detentions of Cambodian journalists Mam Sonando, Hang Sakhorn, and Pa Guon Tieng. These detentions come as Cambodia wages an alarming campaign to stifle the voices of numerous government critics and human rights activists. In the cases of the three journalists, your government resorted to charges of criminal defamation to justify imprisonment.
Mam Sonando, a prominent radio journalist and founder of Sambok Khmum Radio FM 105, was jailed on October 11, 2005, in retaliation for his reporting on territorial concessions your government was planning to make to Vietnam as part of a bilateral border demarcation treaty. He continues to be held without bail.
Hang Sakhorn, editor of the occasional newspaper Ponleu Samaki, was arrested on December 2, 2005, over an article published in September that accused state prosecutor Ven Yoeun of accepting bribes in connection with a land dispute case. Yoeun denied the accusation and filed a criminal defamation suit in September.
Pa Guon Tieng was arrested by border police on January 4, 2006, while reporting in northeastern Stung Treng province. On January 5, Pa was formally charged as an accomplice to criminal defamation because of his participation in a December 31 demonstration in Phnom Penh that criticized the government for the border agreement. Pa produces a popular call-in radio program for the Cambodia Center for Human Rights called “Voice of Democracy.”
The use of criminal defamation charges to punish journalists reporting critically about the government runs counter to Cambodian law and weakens Cambodia’s standing around the world. Article 41 of Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The constitution’s incorporation of international human rights agreements in Article 31 further ensures those rights. And the 1994 Press Law specifically bans the jailing of journalists for their work.
International legal experts have reached consensus that criminal defamation laws are inconsistent with freedom of expression and contrary to a functioning democratic society.
We urge you to ensure that all charges be dropped against these three journalists and that they be immediately released from prison. We also call on you to halt the ongoing efforts to silence dissent and to reverse a course that undermines the principles of free expression and press freedom enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.