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.