Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called Thursday for the government to release jailed newspaper editor Dam Sith and put an end to the intimidation of journalists and opposition party candidates.
In a joint press release, the organizations said Dam Sith’s arrest Sunday is part of a pattern of government intimidation against opposition and independent media in the run-up to July’s national election.
“Dam Sith’s arrest demonstrates how the criminal justice system is used and abused to silence government critics,” Brittis Edman, researcher for Amnesty International, said in the statement. “His arrest sends a message of fear to journalists and other media workers in the lead-up to national elections next month.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Dam Sith’s arrest had nothing to do with the government, nor did he agree that the charges against the SRP-aligned newspaper editor-in-chief warranted detention.
“The arrest is not associated with the government. I, on behalf of the government, have requested for his release,” he said by telephone Thursday.
Khieu Kanharith said the Phnom Penh Municipal Court is today scheduled to explain Dam Sith’s arrest to the Ministry of Information.
Dam Sith was arrested and placed in pretrial detention on charges of defamation and disinformation by Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Chhay Kong.
Chhay Kong said he is complying with the court and declined to comment further.
Defamation, which is covered under Article 63 of the 1992 Untac Law, does not carry a custodial sentence. But disinformation, covered under Article 63, does allow for detention in the case that the publication, distribution or reproduction of false information “has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace,” the statement said.
“Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch consider the provision to be too vague and sweeping, enabling the government to intimidate and prosecute those who are exercising their right to freedom of expression,” it said.
“With elections pending, it’s crucial that Cambodians are able to receive information from a variety of news sources, and that opposition candidates are able to campaign without fear of reprisals,” said Sara Colm, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.