New York, June 26, 2009--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the
sentencing today of Hang Chakra, editor-in-chief of the opposition Khmer-language
daily Khmer Machas Srok, to
one year in prison stemming from his reports on alleged government corruption.
According to the Southeast
Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a Cambodian court ruled that Hang Chakra
violated criminal disinformation laws by publishing a series of articles that accused
officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption. The court
also fined the editor 9 million riels (US$2,250), according to SEAPA.
National Assembly decriminalized defamation in 2007, a move many hoped would
end the legal harassment of journalists who reported critically on government
affairs. But journalists still risk criminal prosecution and maximum three-year
jail terms on disinformation charges, which are outlined in the penal code that
was enacted under the former United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia
(UNTAC). Cambodian newspapers, including the Phnom
Penh Post, denounced the verdict, and quoted Hang Chakra as saying "this is
the cruelest thing to happen to me."
In a June
4 article in the Phnom Penh Post
Hang Chakra said he stood by the story. "When the prosecutor asked me to show
them more information, I told them that I stood by the information published in
my newspaper and told them that I could not reveal the source of the
The paper pointed out that under the Press Law, publishing "false"
information, while a criminal offense, carries only a fine of up to 5 million
riels (US$1,250). "But the UNTAC criminal code contains much harsher
punishments," the paper noted, "with offenders facing a prison term of between
six months and three years, and a fine of up to 10 million riels."
UNTAC's legal authority expired with the promulgation of a
new national constitution in 1993; the 1995 Press Law broadly protects press
freedoms. But since the decriminalization of defamation, Cambodian officials
have resorted to the UNTAC-era criminal code to clamp down on media criticism.
"We urge the relevant Cambodian authorities to release
journalist Hang Chakra," said Bob Dietz,
CPJ's Asia Program Director. "Cambodia's
1995 Press Law broadly protects press freedom, and rulings such as these run
counter to the letter and spirit of that legislation. The court should not rely
on outdated laws to prosecute journalists who report on government
It is not clear whether Hang Chakra will appeal. The ruling comes amid a wider crack
down on free expression in Cambodia
that has targeted government critics including two opposition politicians who
have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity so that defamation charges
may be brought against them.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The amount of the fine in the second paragraph has been corrected to 9 million riels.