Condemnations from Various Sides Against the Political Game Using the Court to Shut Up the Freedom of Expression – Monday, 29.6.2009

Posted on 29 June 2009. Filed under: Week 618 |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 619

Note:

Apologies for the delays in publishing the Sunday and Monday installments.

The Tuesday publication will also be delayed, because I am still traveling, returning from an Internet/ICANN conference in Sydney/Australia.

But you may use the opportunity to read the last editorial, Cambodia, an Island of Peace, if you have not yet done it. A click at the top of the page, every day – Have a look at last week’s editorial – opens the last editorial.

Norbert Klein

“It is clear that the condemnation by the Phnom Penh Municipal court of the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok [Mr. Hang Chakra] on 26 June 2009, to jail him for 12 months and to order him to pay Riel 9 million [approx. US$2,200] shows the political influence of the rich and the powerful of the country on the courts, notorious for being used as a tool of the Cambodian People’s Party.

“Many reactions were voiced, criticizing and condemning this judgment of the Phnom Penh Municipal court for not using the Press Law to deal with a journalist, but using the UNTAC Penal Code [created in 1992 for the transitional period under UN administration, during a time of continuing internal war] instead with the evil intent to jail a journalist.

“Among various reactions is also a statement from the spokesperson of the US Embassy, Mr. John Johnson, ion the day when the Phnom Penh Municipal Court played a political farce to convict the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok.

“The US Embassy official said, &apsIt is obvious that the court is used to shut up a voice criticizing the government.&aps

“This official added, ‘Free speech and freedom of the press are fundamental rights in democracies throughout the world, and public figures and politicians should be prepared to receive both praise and criticism from the people they govern as part of the democratic process.’

“But the mistreatment of journalists who only express their views to criticize the corruption of officials of the Hun Sen government, as well as the ignorance of the court not to use the Press Law but the Penal Code from the UNTAC era [1992/1993] to prosecute journalist for their use of the freedom of expression is described by the Asia Times as an obvious sign of the democratic development process which the Hun Sen government seems reluctant to face.

“Observers said that the judgment of the court against the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok appears to be in line with the anger of high ranking official of Mr. Hun Sen’s government against information published by Khmer Machas Srok, which is seen as touching sensitive points of Cambodian officials, which hinder the pursuit of their interest in corruption and their exercise of power to order the court to play a political farce stretching the law to prosecute journalists.

“An experienced lawyer and president of the Cambodian Defenders Project, Mr. Sok Sam Oeun, released a statement to react against the prosecution of the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, saying that the courts in Cambodia are not at all independent.

“This lawyer stated that all legal cases related to journalists have to treated according to the Press Law that was adopted after the UNTAC Penal Code. He explained, &apsThe new Press Law of 1995 was intended to replace the use of the UNTAC Penal Code in relation to journalists.&aps

“But normally, judges use just any law they want, when they intend to base a prosecution on the criminal level; they use the Penal Code even though those the Press Law, enacted later, made the previous law invalid.

“He said, &apsWe saw that the writing expressed a general view. As it is a general view, the Penal Code should not be used, and also, our Constitution states that just for expressing an opinion, no jail penalty should be imposed.&aps

“Officials at the courts are said to fear the influence of the powerful and the rich over the cases they handle. Thus, they did now anything to follow what those rich and powerful people wanted.

“The lawyer Suong Chanthan was ordered by the powerful of the government to sue the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, and he seems to misunderstand the law, when he said that this indictment is to implement the law.

“Thia is not a correct and just enforcement of the law, as also the reactions of civil society organizations and of the Club of Cambodian Journalists pointed out, that the court has to use the Press Law to deal with journalists, but not the Penal Code to penalize journalists. Suong Chanthan&apss words seem confused and he is not understanding the court system and the law. The role of the court is not to use its discretion to convict the accused, on the contrary, courts have to use law justly to ensure justice for the society.

“The defense lawyer of Mr. Hang Chakra, Mr. Chuong Chou Ngy, described this case differently from the lawyer Suong Chanthan, &apsIt is a political case, but the court is used as a tool to penalize a journalist&aps. He added, &apsThe newspaper published a political story. The person who took the initiative to file a complaint is politician. Therefore, this is absolutely a political case.&aps

“An official of a civil society organization said that the jail sentence for the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, Mr. Hang Chakra, is a sentence to shut up the voices and rights of journalists. The arrest of Mr. Hang Chakra sending him to the Prey Sar Prison clearly shows that the law is violated by the police and by the courts of the current ruling regime, that overturns justice in the Khmer society, as the accused had not received a conviction by the court when he was arrested, and thus, by law, he was not yet to be a prisoner, and the police and the court cannot stretch the law to arrest and jail Mr. Hang Chakra legally.

“The judge of the court hearing in Phnom Penh, Din Sivuthy, read the judgment in absentia, but considered it to be made in front of the accused, and the hearing was short and arranged quickly without the presence of Mr. Hang Chakra or his lawyer. This is a disreputable act of politics of the powerful who are ruling the country, which is notorious for corruption and for using the courts to prosecute journalists, attempting to restrict democracy, because the dictators fear that their power might inevitably collapse according to the trend of the democracy in the world.” Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #450, 28-30.6.2009

[This article does not state the content of alleged disinformation, for which Mr. Hang Chakrya was arrested.]

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 29 June 2009

Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #222, 29.6.2009

  • Gold Vendor Couple Are Shot to Rob Nearly US$10,000 [the robbers escaped safely – Phnom Penh]
  • The Six A/H1N1 Patients in Cambodia Are Being Treated and Are Recovering
  • The First Two A/H1N1 Flu Patients Died in Siam [Thailand]
  • North Korea and the United Sates of America Warn Each Other of Nuclear War

Deum Tnot, Vol.2, #71, 29-30.6.2009

  • An Explosion of Ammunition at the Tuol Krasaing Security Fortress [the bodyguard camp of the prime minister] Frightened People [there is no report yet of casualties – Takhmao, Kandal]

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.8, #1982, 28-29.6.2009

  • The Norodom Ranariddh Party Changed its Name to Nationalist Party
  • America Provides [free English-learning] Scholarships to 90 Khmer Muslim Students

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #450, 28-30.6.2009

  • Condemnations from Various Sides Against the Political Game Using the Court to Shut Up the Freedom of Expression

Koh Santepheap, Vol.42, #6688, 29.6.2009

  • The Cambodian People&apss Party Commemorates the 58 Anniversary of the Creation of the Party, and Calls for the Involvement of People to Strengthen the Defense Sector
  • The Draft Law on Demonstrations, which Intends to Create Sites to Express One’s Opinion Publicly, Is Not a Procedure to Block Out the Freedom of Expression [according a statement of the Ministry of Interior]

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4932, 28-29.6.2009

  • There Is No Information about the [Cambodia] Visit by the Thai Deputy Prime Minister, after There Had Been Opposition Expressed [against the suggestion by Thailand to jointly manage the Preah Vihear Temple area]
  • The Authorities Suppressed a Demonstration and Arrested 21 Garment Workers of the Sky High Factory, to Be Educated [3,850 workers demonstrated to demand that the factory owner stops keeping a group of gangsters to mistreat the workers]
  • Deaths from Lightning Strikes Continue: Five More People Died [two in Kompong Chhnang, two in Kampot, and one in Kompong Speu]

Have a look at the last editorial – you can access it directly from the main page of the Mirror.

And please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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2 Responses to “Condemnations from Various Sides Against the Political Game Using the Court to Shut Up the Freedom of Expression – Monday, 29.6.2009”

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[…] “Many reactions were voiced, criticizing and condemning this judgment of the Phnom Penh Municipal court for not using the Press Law to deal with a journalist, but using the UNTAC PenaRead more at https://cambodiamirror.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/condemnations-from-various-sides-against-the-politica… […]

Amnesty International commented by the following press release:

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PRESS RELEASE

June 30th 2009
For immediate release

Cambodia: Jailing of newspaper editor setback to free expression

Cambodian judicial authorities should squash last week’s conviction of newspaper editor Hang Chakra for spreading “disinformation” and order an immediate retrial, Amnesty International said today.

“This case demonstrates the absence of an independent judiciary in Cambodia, and the increasing intolerance of dissent and criticism within Cambodia’s top echelons of power,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Hang Chakra, editor-in-chief of the opposition Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, to a one-year prison term and a fine of nine million riel (approx. 2,250 USD) for “disinformation” on 26 June 2009.  He was arrested later that day in Battambang Province and taken to Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh.

A government lawyer had filed a complaint against Hang Chakra for “disinformation” and “incitement” in a number of articles published in May related to alleged corruption within the office of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Hang Chakra’s defence lawyer had been assigned the case only one day before the hearing and was not able to represent his client in court at such short notice. The Court denied his request for a postponement of the
hearing, denying Hang Chakra his right to adequate time to prepare his defense.

“This trial clearly fell short of international human rights law and standards,” Edman said. “The law on disinformation is too broad and open to abuse. Government authorities are now using disinformation and defamation laws to harass, intimidate, and even jail their critics.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently noted that Cambodia’s top leadership has lodged eight separate criminal defamation and disinformation complaints since April 2009.

 “The use of disinformation and defamation charges against peaceful critics of government policy or action violates the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and stifles the political debate in Cambodia”, Edman said.

Amnesty International calls on the Cambodian judicial authorities to order a retrial for Hang Chakra. Amnesty International also calls on the government and national assembly to repeal disinformation and defamation
laws or else revise them so that they conform to international human rights law and standards.

Background

The Cambodian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Cambodia is obliged to ensure that everyone charged with a
criminal offence is entitled to a fair trial. This includes the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his or her defence and to communicate with counsel of their choosing.

The 1995 Press Law provides for some protection of journalists, but is rarely used. Instead, Articles 62 and 63 of the so-called 1992 UNTAC Law, Cambodia’s current penal code, are used in most legal cases against
journalists or media representatives. Article 62 criminalises the publication, distribution or reproduction of false information that “has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace,” with a custodial sentence of up to three years.

Article 63 provides that allegations against public figures “which the author, the journalist, editor, or producer knows to be false” may constitute defamation. Criminal defamation no longer carries a custodial
sentence, since the authorities bowed to pressure to amend the legislation after controversial attempts in 2005 to silence dissent through the courts.

Ends
Public Document


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