Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday appealed to journalists to not twist information or “curse” those they report on now that defamation charges no longer carry the threat of imprisonment.
Speaking at the launch of the newly ratified criminal procedure code, Hun Sen said that although controversial prison terms for defamation have been removed from the UNTAC-era criminal code, journalists should still be careful with their criticism.
“When you curse people and you cannot be imprisoned, do not continue to curse them,” he said.
A number of government critics have been imprisoned for defamation since the criminal code was passed in 1992 under the UN Transitional Authority for Cambodia, which supervised the country for nearly two years following the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.
In May 2006, the National Assembly passed an amendment abolishing prison sentences for defamation but adding fines between $243 and $2,428.
Hun Sen blamed UNTAC for creating a law that included prison sentences for defamation, adding that rights groups and journalists should not have blamed the government for implementing the law.
“UNTAC law stated that defamers will be imprisoned—the UNTAC did this for Cambodia,” Hun Sen said. “[But] when we implemented the law, they claimed we were pressuring their rights.”
Retired Australian Lieutenant General John Sanderson, who was military commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cambodia from 1991 to 1993, said in an interview Monday that due to instability in the country, UNTAC had to put a criminal code in place.
“It was essential for UNTAC to put this in place to be able to create a neutral political environment” for 1993’s democratic elections, he said.
Sanderson added that the UNTAC law was created according to international law with input from Cambodian law.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who heads the National Assembly’s commission on information and media, said that although defamation no longer carries a prison term, reporters can still be jailed if they fail to pay fines.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that his ministry does not impose tough restrictions on the media, adding that he hopes journalists will nonetheless adhere to professional ethics.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)