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Cambodia: Setback for Decriminalising Defamation

Setback for Decriminalising Defamation Campaign in Cambodia


International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called a joint statement by the head of the Cambodian Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice instructing all courts and judges to consider defamation a crime, a setback for the decriminalising defamation in Cambodia.

The statement issued on March 14, instructed all Cambodian courts to consider defamation as a serious crime that targets individuals or public figures and upsets the public order, national security and creates unrest and political instability.

The joint instruction contradicts prime minister, Hun Sen’s comments made on February 13 calling for defamation to be tried as a civil offence and that compensation is an appropriate solution for victims of defamation. The prime minister called for public education to help the public understand that freedom of expression is limited and should not cause harm to others.

“The joint instruction is a set back to the campaign for decriminalising defamation in Cambodia which was showing progress following prime minister Hun Sen’s comments and last week’s request by the foreign minister,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.

In 2001, the foreign minister, Hor Nam Hong, sued three reporters from the Cambodia Daily, Kay Kimsong (Cambodia), Gina Chon (American), and Brain Mockenhaupt (American) for an article that accused him of heading the Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh and that he had worked closely with the Khmer Rouge foreign Minister, Ieng Sary.

The Phnom Penh Court convicted the three reporters and fined then 2,500 USD each after Mr Hor Nam Hong denied the allegations.

Following the court decision, the foreign minister requested the court suspend the fine due to sympathy for the journalists who cannot afford to pay the fine.

“The IFJ and our affiliate in Cambodia, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) will continue our campaign for the removal of defamation from the criminal statutes and for the eradication of over inflated civil penalties,” said Warren.

”Reasonable civil remedies, combined with journalistic training, an independent press council to arbitrate disputes and quick apologies by media outlets are needed for a true reform of Cambodia’s defamation system,” said Warren.

“A journalist’s livelihood, by financial ruin or jailing, should never be threatened for doing his or her job of informing the public,” said Warren.

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