Bar Association Rejects Questions Over Independence

The president of the Cambodian Bar Association on Wednesday rejected claims the organization is not independent and played down fears related to a new order that would restrict the ability of lawyers to talk to the media. 

The Bar Association and Information Ministry on Friday said that new rules would stipulate that lawyers should gain the bar’s permission before giving interviews to television and radio media.

The move drew criticism from the U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said the rule was “designed to prevent criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.” It also pointed out that the Bar Association’s current president, Bun Honn, appointed in November, is a former Justice Ministry under-secretary of state.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Honn said that he was “not under any instruction of any people.”

“Do you think that anyone who works at any institution, and then they resign from that to work at another one, [is] still under the control of the former institution?… I don’t think so,” he said.

Mr. Honn confirmed that his bid for the presidency was supported by Sok An, the minister in charge of the Council of Ministers, but said this was irrelevant since he had also had the support of the majority of other bar members—which include honorary member Mr. Hun Sen as well as opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The HRW statement also pointed to Mr. Honn’s membership of the Council of Jurists, which is part of the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Honn declined to confirm that he was a member of the Council of Jurists. “That is my personal life, it’s not relating to the Bar Association,” he said.

The website of Mr. Honn’s law firm, HBS Law, says of Mr. Honn: “He has been a Member of the Council of Jurists of the Royal Government of Cambodia since 2004.”

Mr. Honn also sought to clarify the order itself, saying that it was still permissible for lawyers to speak to journalists about specific cases. The problem, he said, was when lawyers wrongly explained the specifics of the law.

“Some lawyers interview on the media concerning the law, maybe any law. He or she explained wrongly the content of the law because of the lack of research and because they have not prepared beforehand to give the interview,” he said.

“It’s dangerous to the public. People, they don’t know [about the law]. When they heard what the lawyer said, they always believe him…. It’s not for everything said on the media, just for the law explanation, law dissemination.”

Mr. Honn also denied comments made by Bar Association spokesman Yim Sary on Monday that the order stemmed from comments made by Kuoy Thunna, the lawyer representing two firms in a legal dispute with bankrupt telecommunications company Mfone.

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