Cambodian journalist released from prison in amnesty

New York, April 27, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the April 13 release from prison of Hang Chakraeditor and publisher of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok daily newspaper in Cambodia.

He was granted a royal pardon after serving nine months of a one-year sentence on a “criminal disinformation” conviction over a series of critical articles on alleged high-level government corruption. He was among 43 prisoners given amnesty ahead of Cambodia’s mid-April Buddhist New Year celebrations. 

According to the Phnom Penh Post, Hang Chakra wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 8 to apologize and pledged not to report on government corruption in the future if he was released. The English-language daily newspaper quoted Hang Chakra’s letter saying that he had “repeatedly failed to act properly and seriously.” 

But since his release, Hang Chakra has stated publicly his intention to continue publishing Khmer Machas Srok, which, according to news reports, recently suspended publication for financial reasons. The newspaper is affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, whose eponymous leader was recently stripped of his parliamentary immunity and fled into exile in France.

“Hang Chakra never should have been imprisoned in the first place on these trumped-up charges,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia Representative. “Prime Minister Hun Sen has failed to uphold his pledge to stop jailing journalists for their reporting.” 

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni had written to Hun Sen in October last year calling for Hang Chakra’s release, but his request was refused for unknown reasons.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia’s People’s Party (CPP) maintains strong editorial influence over the country’s mainstream print and broadcast media, which seldom publishes or airs reports critical of top level officials in his administration. His government recently cracked down on freedom of expression, including among parliamentarians, after a period of relative openness. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hang Chakra’s name has been corrected.