Prime Minister Hun Sen told Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana on Thursday to transfer all pending defamation cases from criminal to civil court and criticized a new penal code, drafted with French technical assistance, for including defamation as a criminal complaint.
“The French wrote it the French way, but we withdraw it,” Hun Sen said in a speech to government officials and donors at an anti-poverty meeting at InterContinental Hotel.
“Although it is France’s draft, Cambodia is the one to decide. The French decided to make defamation criminal, but it is up to the Khmer National Assembly to decide,” he said.
“In some countries, defamation is still criminal. Cambodia must go ahead of them,” he added.
Under the proposed new penal code defamation is a criminal offense, punishable by fines of between $20 and $50 and between one and five months in jail.
Hun Sen stunned observes on Tuesday when he announced that he favored decriminalizing defamation. The move followed the negotiated return from exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Feb 10 and the dropping of defamation cases by Hun Sen against his critics.
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that French experts had worked on the defamation law for around one year.
Sok Sam Oeun added that it was also now important to nullify the Untac defamation law.
Ang Vong Vathana said he was studying the French-supported law, but was not sure how long it would take to put an alternative one in place.
“Dropping a law from the [draft] penal code is not easy,” he said.
Laurent Lemarchand, spokesman for the French Embassy, said the embassy never comments on statements made by the prime minister.