Freedom of Expression Losing Ground
A spate of arrests including journalists, trade unionists, and prominent human rights activists in Cambodia has had a chilling effect, as civil society organizations and others grow increasingly fearful of expressing opinions. The Constitutionally-protected right to freedom of expression in Cambodia has come under grave threat from a series of criminal defamation lawsuits filed by various state actors.
Despite the political shift and release of known activists in recent months, the interference displayed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the functioning of the judiciary and legislature highlights a lack of independence between branches of the government. The continued tactic of misusing the judiciary and legislature for personal and political gain demonstrates that despite apparent changes, Cambodia remains in the grips of its leadership.
To obtain more information, please read LICADHO's briefing paper Cambodia: Attack on Freedom of Expression & Political Rights.
The Situation Today
Besides the five publicized activists who were arrested and released on bail for criminal defamation charges, others - community leaders, activists, and simple villagers - remain incarcerated around the country after expressing their opinions on sensitive issues, such as land misappropriation.
The misuse of the law, which follows three years of severe restrictions on freedom of assembly, reinforces Cambodia’s move away from democratization and the promotion of human rights, rule of law and judicial independence.
Additional information can be found in LICADHO's briefing paper Attacks and threat against Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia 2006.
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Help and support activists, journalists and unionists still facing defamation charges in Cambodia by by putting the Association for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia yellow ribbon on your website and link to this page.
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Individuals Released on Bail
Beehive Radio Owner and Journalist
Mr. Sonando was arrested and detained on October 11, 2005
The series of arrests began on October 11 when Mr Mam Sonando, owner and director of Beehive Radio FM 105, was arrested without a court warrant at his house in Kandal Province. He was brought before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court where he was charged with defamation under Article 63 of the UNTAC criminal law (which is punishable by up to one year in prison). He was immediately sent to Prey Sar prison, where he remains today. Additional charges of disinformation (up to three years in prison) and incitement of others to commit a criminal offense without the offense being committed (one to five years' imprisonment) were later filled against Mr Sonando.
The charges relate to the broadcasting on September 20 of a radio interview between Mr Mam Sonando and Cambodian activist in France Mr Sean Pengse, President of the Paris-based Cambodia's Border Committee, criticizing a Cambodia-Vietnam border treaty about to be signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. During the interview, which he conducted himself, Mam Sonando did not express criticism of the treaty and at times challenged the views of the interviewee. The interview was broadcast before the Prime Minister was due to sign the controversial Supplemental Agreement to the 1985 Cambodia-Vietnam Border Treaty.
Teachers' Association President
Mr. Chhun was arrested and detained on October 15, 2005
Mr Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, was arrested on October 15 and charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of defamation and incitement of others to commit a crime without that crime being committed. He was arrested in Banteay Meanchey province while trying to cross into Thailand to seek asylum.
The arrest was in response to a public statement, issued on October 11 by the Cambodia Watchdog Council and signed by Rong Chhun, alongside three other Council members. The statement criticized the border agreement between Vietnam and Cambodia which Prime Minister Hun Sen signed during his visit to Vietnam earlier that week.
Mr. Sokha was arrested and detained on December 31, 2005
On December 31, Mr. Kem Sokha was also arrested in Phnom Penh on charges of defamation over a banner displayed at a celebration of International Human Rights Day on December 10. Mr Sokha, president of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a non-governmental organization, and a well-known advocate for human rights and democracy, was sent to Prey Sar prison.
The pre-2003 election banner, which had previously been circulated around CCHR public forums held around the country, contained small hand-written comments by Cambodian villagers expressing political opinions. One such comment allegedly criticized Hun Sen and referred to Cambodian land being lost to Vietnam.
CLEC Executive Director
Mr. Virak was arrested and detained on December 31, 2005
That same day, human rights activist Mr Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) and chairman of the organization committee for the December 10 International Human Rights Day celebration, was also arrested and charged with defamation. He was sent to Prey Sar prison.
Pa Nguon Teang
CCHR Radio Director
Mr. Teang was arrested on January 4, 2006 and detained on January 5
On January 4, Pa Nguon Teang, acting director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), was brought from Stung Treng province to Phnom Penh where he was detained at the Ministry of Interior overnight. The legality of his arrest has been questioned, as no arrest warrant was shown. Early next morning, Mr Teang was charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with defamation, and then was taken to Prey Sar prison.
All but one of the individuals above are currently detained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison awaiting trial. Bail applications for Mam Sonando, Rong Chhun and Kem Sokha have been refused by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court (and by the Court of Appeal in the cases of Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun). Yeng Virak was released on bail January 11, 2006, following strong international and domestic criticism of the wave of arrests.
On January 12, a joint statement signed by 38 national organizations and 38 international organizations all denounced the recent arrests and urged 'the authorities to release and drop all charges against Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak, Pa Nguon Teang, Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun and to discontinue any plans for similar arrests and prosecutions of other activists.'
Go to Photo AlbumOn January 17, the remaining four detainees were released on bail. After attending a Buddhist ceremony at a pagoda near Prey Sar prison, they drove to CCHR headquarters. Facing a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered there to greet them, Mam Sonado, Rong Chhun, Kem Sokha, Pa Nguon Teang - joined by Yeng Virak who was released on bail the previous week - expressed their gratitude for the strong support they received. The releases of all five men men come after weeks of international and Cambodian criticism of the arrests and detentions.
January 25, 2006
• Resolution S.RES.353: Concern with the deliberate undermining of democratic freedoms and justice in Cambodia, U.S. Senate
January 19, 2006
• Resolution on political repression in Cambodia, European Parliament
January 18, 2006
• CPJ seeks halt to Cambodia's media crackdown, Committee to Protect Journalists
• Releases on bail / Judicial proceedings Bulletin, OMCT/FIDH
January 17, 2006
• Freed but still facing charges, Reporters Without Borders
January 13, 2006
• Deteriorating political situation in Cambodia, European Union
January 10, 2006
• Drop criminal defamation charges against human rights defenders, International Commission of Jurists
January 9, 2006
• Statement on Cambodia, World Bank
January 6, 2006
• Arrests of Activists and Opposition Leaders, U.S. State Department
January 5, 2006
• New activist arrest as government pressures courts, Amnesty International
• Journalist and rights activist Pa Guon Tieng arrested, Committee to Protect Journalists
January 4, 2006
• Arbitrary detentions / Judicial Proceedings Bulletin, OMCT/FIDH
• Special Rapporteur Yash Ghai's Statement, UNHCHR
January 2, 2006
• Hun Sen Systematically silences critics, Human Rights Watch
December 10, 2005
• Cambodian human rights defender cannot return home, Frontline Defenders
December 1, 2005
• Concerns over human rights situation in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, Europeen Parliament
November 10, 2005
• Radio station manager still in prison after one month..., Reporters without Borders
October 18, 2005
• Prime Minister Moves to Crush Dissent, Human Rights Watch
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