Home > Local News > New Cambodian laws may suppress free speech: rights groups

New Cambodian laws may suppress free speech: rights groups

A general view shows a street of housing in Phnom
Penh, Camboida in April 2010. Cambodia is introducing new laws which
rights groups warned Friday could be used to silence critics and stifle
freedom of expression.
PHNOM PENH (AFP) – – Cambodia is
introducing new laws which rights groups warned Friday could be used to
silence critics and stifle freedom of expression.
The new
penal code comes into force on Saturday and sets out a string of
potential new crimes, including some that could see a person jailed or
fined for expressing dissenting views, non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) said.
“The new code makes it a crime to criticise
judges or ‘disturb public order’ by questioning court decisions,” said
Sara Colm, a Cambodia-based senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The change would make it “more risky” for court monitors, human rights defenders and victims to speak out, she added.
“We
are concerned that provisions in the new penal code, which failed to
decriminalise defamation, will be used to silence peaceful critics and
suppress freedom of speech.”
One law states that any act
directed at a public official that affects the “dignity of a person”
could be punished with up to six days in prison and a fine, local
rights group Licadho said in a legal analysis.
In its most extreme form, the article could “criminalise all acts that hurt the feelings of public officials,” the group said.
The government, however, said the penal code was “good news for Cambodia”.
“It protects human rights and keeps social order,” said government spokesman Phay Siphan.
“If
the NGOs say that an article of the criminal code affects the rights of
the people they should not make waves but they should file a complaint
with the proper institutions to get an amendment,” he said.
The code replaces laws set out by a UN transitional authority in the early 1990s after decades of civil war.
The
Cambodian government has come under fire from rights groups in recent
years for launching a number of defamation and disinformation lawsuits
against critics and opposition members.
Opposition leader Sam
Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, faces a total of 12
years in prison if he returns to Cambodia, after a court in September
sentenced him to 10 years for publishing a false map of the border with
Vietnam.
He already had a two-year jail term hanging over his head for uprooting border markings.
In
another high-profile case, local rights activist Leang Sokchouen was
jailed for two years in August for disinformation after he allegedly
distributed anti-government leaflets.
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