Reporting Organization Criticizes WFP Employee’s Conviction

The Dec 19 conviction for incitement of a World Food Program employee was condemned in a statement Monday by the France-based Reporters Without Borders, which said it reflected “the harder line being taken by the government on online free expression.”

Seng Kunakar, a WFP warehouse guard, was sentenced to six months in prison for sharing leaflets printed from the Internet that accused government leaders, including Prime Minster Hun Sen, of treason.

A court official said yesterday that an appeal had been submitted.  “While not commenting on the content of the article, we point out that [Mr Kunakar] did not distribute it publicly, which is punishable under Cambodian law,” the organization said in a brief statement. “He just printed it in order to read it with two colleagues.”

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached yesterday but said in a Dec 22 e-mail that accusing a government leader of treason did not fall under the category of constitutionally protected speech.

In an address Monday, Mr Hun Sen said that calling him a traitor amounted to attempting a coup.

The RWB statement also suggested that Mr Kunakar may have been punished as a result of “friction” between WFP and the government, which WFP and government officials have both denied.

The premier in a Dec 9 speech accused WFP of falsely saying Cambodia risked food shortage, and WFP apologized in a letter dated Dec 18, the day after Mr Kunakar was arrested.

WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre de Margerie said in an e-mail yesterday that the WFP continued to “follow closely” Mr Kunakar’s case. He reiterated that there was no “indication” Mr Kunakar’s arrest and Mr Hun Sen’s comments on the WFP were related.

Phnom Penh Judge Kor Vanndy said yesterday that he had passed on an appeal from Mr Kunakar’s lawyer.

“I signed the appeal document and sent it to the Court of Appeal on Monday,” Mr Vanndy said.

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