The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders applauded Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday, saying his call to remove prison time from the defamation law was key to ensuring press freedoms in Cambodia.
“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,” the organization wrote in a statement.
The Council of Ministers voted on Friday to amend the Untac-era defamation law, removing the stipulation that those found guilty of defamation face prison time of eight days to one year.
If the amendment is approved by the National Assembly, which will consider the change in the coming days, Article 63 will set punishment for those who are convicted of defamation at fines ranging from $250 to $2,500.
Sam Rainsy Party member Mu Sochua said a rosy assessment of government intentions based solely on the actions of the Council of Ministers was premature.
“Article 63 has not yet been amended,” she said. “In general, do people feel free? I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project, said that even if defamation is removed from the new penal code entirely, those unable or unwilling to pay fines would still end up in jail—for up to two years, or until they pay.
“According to the interpretation of the law, only people who resist paying will be put in jail,” he said. “But in reality, the poor will keep being put in jail, always,” he added.