Groups Give Outline for a New Defamation Law

The Alliance for Freedom of Ex­pression in Cambodia and the in­ter­national legal organization Article 19 continued their call to re­move defamation from the pe­nal draft code Friday, and outli­ned recommendations for a new de­­fa­mation law.

The defamation law should protect public figures less than regular ci­tizens, and shift the burden of proof to plaintiffs when the issues are of public concern, the groups said in a joint statement.

A defamation law should establish that true statements and opinions are not defamatory and that journalists can protect their confidential sources, the statement added.

On April 21, the Council of Mi­nis­ters voted to remove the pri­son sentence from Untac Article 63, which states that those found guil­ty of defamation may be im­pri­soned eight days to one year, and fined $250 to $2,500 or both.

However, an attorney familiar with the new draft penal code said it contains other stringent pro­visions, such as those who cri­ti­cize a judge’s work performance in a way perceived as insulting would be punishable by six days to one month in jail, or a fine of about $2.50 to $25.

The punishment would be in­creased if the criticisms viewed as in­sulting were made in front of others, they attorney said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The draft law also states that cri­ticizing an act or decision of a court with the intent of causing dis­order or endangering national ins­titutions could be punished by one to six months in jail or a fine of about $25 to $250.

The draft law also includes jail terms of one to six months in jail or $25 to $250 in fines for those who publish comments intended to pressure or influence the gov­ern­ment.

“Expression of opinion is not a crime,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

“Criticize the court, sure-it’s a real opinion,” he said. “This is something the public should discuss,” he added.

“The general population must be aware of how dangerous this law is,” said Ou Virak, secretary-general of Alliance for Freedom of Expression.





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