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Cambodia 24 April 2006

In historic move, prime minister says he will decriminalize defamation


The former king, Norodom Sihanouk, announced on 25 April 2006 that he had decided not to pursue his complaint against the French-language magazine L’Echo du Cambodge. After it carried extracts of the book “Des courtisans aux partisans”, he said he would be taking action against the magazine, which he said had treated him “unfairly”.

Elsewhere, the information ministry said it had ordered a halt to the publication of extracts from the book in the magazine.

Reporters Without Borders today hailed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision on 21 April to abolish imprisonment for defamation in Cambodia and urged other countries in Southeast Asia to follow suit, calling it an essential step towards real and lasting press freedom.

“Parliament must take up this government proposal and turn it into law as soon as possible,” the press freedom organisation said. “It will make Cambodia one of the few Asian countries to have purged their legislation of this archaic provision, which has too often been used to imprison journalists arbitrarily.”

Nonetheless, when announcing the proposed reform at a news conference, the prime minister warned journalists to “draft their articles well” in order to avoid lawsuits. Journalists who write articles that damage someone’s reputation would still be fined, he insisted.

The government prosecuted several journalists last year and some, such as Mam Sonando, the owner of radio Sombok Khmum (Beehive FM 105), were imprisoned.

As it stands, the law on defamation provides for preventive detention and a sentence of a year in prison or a fine of 10 million riels (2,100 euros). Amendment of article 63 will just do away with the prison sentence. It must be approved by parliament before it can take effect.

Former King Norodom Sihanouk meanwhile today said he would sue the magazine L’Echo du Cambodge for publishing an article that was “hostile” towards him. The magazine recently carried extracts from “Des courtisans aux partisans,” a 1971 book about Cambodia by French writers Serge Thion and Jean-Claude Pomonti. The king previously said he would not sue journalists out of respect for press freedom.

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