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Cambodia 7 March 2006

Prime minister promises to decriminalise defamation

Reporters Without Borders takes Prime Minister Hun Sen at his word when he says he plans to remove the offence of “defamation” from the criminal code, the organisation said. Cambodian law currently allows those charged with defamation, chiefly journalists, to be sent to prison while awaiting trial and makes them liable for sentences of one year’s imprisonment. The prime minister wants to reduce these penalties to fines.

“I am in favour of the decriminalisation of defamation. In future, criminal law will no longer be used in such cases,” said the prime minister on 14 February 2006, “Our goal is national reconciliation and to find a solution to the problem of poverty”

The decriminalisation of this law, often used against journalists, has to be approved by parliament, in which Hun Sen’s party has the majority. “Obviously we can do whatever the prime minister demands,” said Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.


Prime Minister breaks promise to drop defamation charge against Mom Sonando

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s announcement today that defamation charges will not, after all, be dropped against radio journalist Mom Sonando, union leader Rong Chhun and human rights activists Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Tieng.

Hun Sen said the court had ruled that it was “impossible” to withdraw the lawsuits as legal investigations were already under way. “Suspension is possible only if the case has not yet entered its investigation phase, so neither suspension nor withdrawal is possible,” he said.

Last week, Hun Sen said he had finally decided to withdraw the lawsuits after receiving letters of apology. U.S. ambassador Joseph Mussomeli commented at the time: “We are very happy with what has happened. It is something the international community should applaud.”


Prime minister promises to drop charges against Mam Sonando

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to drop criminal defamation charges against Mam Sonando, the owner of radio Sombok Khmum (Beehive FM 105), and four human rights activists after they gave him written apologies for accusing him of selling Cambodian territory to Vietnam.

“Their letters were enough for me to end the case,” the news agency Reuters quoted the prime minister as saying on 24 January. “I have to ask my lawyers and legal experts how to drop the charges against them after this compromise,” he added.


Radio station chief freed but still facing charges

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release from prison today of Mam Sonando, head of radio station Sombok Khmum (Ruche FM 105), two human rights activists, Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Teang, and trade unionist Rong Chhun, but called on prime minister Hun Sen to drop defamation charges again them that could bring year-long jail sentences.

The organisation said an interview done about a border dispute by Mam Sonando, whose health deteriorated in prison, had not slandered the prime minister and that the journalist had simply been doing his job. The radio station is one of the country’s few independent ones.

The four men were greeted by a crowd of about 100 well-wishers as they emerged from Prey Sar prison, near Phnom Penh, soon after a city court had released them on bail at Hun Sen’s request.

The prime minister acted after a meeting with visiting US assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill. A government official said the move was “a present for Mr Hill to mark the opening of the new US embassy” in Phnom Penh. The US had criticised the arrest of the four.

Mam Sonando was arrested at his home on 11 October 2005, 20 days after broadcasting an interview with Sean Pengse, head of the French-based Cambodia Borders Committee, which opposes handing the islands of Phu Quoc and Krachakses to Vietnam. Hun Sen had said he would sue anyone who dared to suggest he was giving away Cambodian territory.

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