Members of the news media who publish secrets of the Khmer Rouge tribunal may be subject to legal penalties such as fines, the court said this week.
Though other war crimes courts have prosecuted reporters for publishing leaked information, the Khmer Rouge tribunal has only episodically warned reporters against doing so in the three years since it began operations.
Such warnings came to a head in June when British Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley told NGO workers that he had warned a journalist of criminal penalties for publishing information deemed confidential.
The warning caused alarm among court monitors who feared that the court could encourage the common practice in Cambodia of prosecuting members of the press.
Though information has routinely leaked out of the tribunal, the legal means for penalizing this were never clearly stated.
However, in a response received two months after Mr Cayley’s remarks, the tribunal’s office of administration said Wednesday that the court’s procedural rules allowed judges to apply Cambodian law to sanction “any person” who discloses confidential information.
Cambodia’s 1995 Press Law provides no protection to reporters who publish court secrets and does not guarantee the right of access to secret court records, the court said in a statement received by e-mail.
“The sanctions under this law are usually a penalty fine,” the statement said.
However, the Press Law provides no explicit penalty for publishing court secrets.
Lars Olsen, legal communications officer for the tribunal, said yesterday that in the event the court decided to pursue a reporter, this would be a decision for its judges.
“The office of administration has merely informed The Cambodia Daily about which options may exist,” he said. It would be up to the court’s judges to determine the scope of its procedural rules “and what legislation, if any, may apply.”
Mong Monichariya, president of Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court and a reserve judge at the tribunal who participated in drafting the procedural rules adopted in 2007, said yesterday that Cambodian judges had resisted including harsher provisions at the tribunal for contempt of court for the media.
UN judges “had addressed that but we opposed them,” he said. “We suggested they take into account national law.”
According to Bun Honn, undersecretary of state at the Justice Ministry, the task of prosecuting a reporter for disclosing confidential information would be tricky.
“There is no rule directly prohibiting the journalists,” he said. “There is a punishment for the revealer.”
“It is hard to punish the journalist alone unless they have discovered the competent official who is responsible for leaking information,” said Mr Honn. “If so, the journalist must be punished as an accomplice.”
Mr Honn said cited a provision of the recently adopted penal code, which is to take effect in December and provides prison terms of up to a year for leaking confidential information.
Under the Press Law, however, journalists may maintain the confidentiality of sources.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said yesterday that prosecuting a reporter could set a precedent.
It is difficult to strike a balance between the courts’ right to protect secrets and the public’s right to information, he said, noting that government bodies do not classify information to protect its secrecy.
“As far as I know, there have not been any reporters who have been prosecuted or penalized for revealing the secrets of the court,” he said.