Nine laws in revised penal code pose threat to freedom of expression

A Cambodian non-government organization recently released a report expressing concern over nine provisions in the kingdom’s newly revised penal code that could “pose a serious threat to Cambodians’ expressive freedoms”.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), in its report entitled, “Freedom of Expression in Cambodia: An Illusion of Democracy”, says the revised penal code, which took effect on 10 December 2010, has two “welcome provisions”, including abolition of the oft-abused disinformation provision and another calling for the handling of defamation cases involving the media under the Press Law.

However, it noted that “the new code also makes most fines mandatory and adds an array of ‘supplementary punishments’ ranging from indefinite suspension of unspecified ‘civil rights’ to revocation of the right to practice a profession.”

The nine provisions in question and their corresponding penalties are:

 Art. 305 Public Defamation – fine of 100,000 to 10 million riels

 Art. 307 Public Insult – fine of 100,000 to 10 million riels

 Art. 311 Slanderous Denunciation – imprisonment of 1 month to 1 year; fine of 100,000 to 2 million riels

 Art. 495 Incitement to Commit a Crime – imprisonment of 6 months to 2 years; fine of 1 million-4 million riels (incitement not leading to a crime); imprisonment of 2-5 years and fine of 4-10 million riels (incitement leading to crime)

 Art. 496 Incitement to Discrimination – imprisonment of 1-3 years; fine of 2-6 million riels

 Art. 501 Contempt – imprisonment of 1-6 days; fine of 1,000 to 100,000 riels

 Art. 522 Publication of Comments Intended to Influence a Court – imprisonment of 1-6 months; fine of 100,000-1 million riels

 Art. 523 Discrediting a Judicial Decision – imprisonment of 1-6 months; fine of 100,000-1 million riels

 Art. 524 False Denunciation to Judicial Authority – imprisonment of 1-6 months; fine of 100,000 to 1 million riels

LICADHO also noted that the provisions of Art. 502 “are vague and highly subjective; taken to the extreme, the article essentially criminalizes all acts which hurt the feelings of public officials”.

Art. 522, on the other hand, have provisions that “could effectively criminalize public advocacy by NGOs and others, who frequently make statements regarding pending trials”.

On the other hand, the NGO observed that Art. 524 might be used against whistleblowers.

The new provisions were enforced just a week after its introduction when police arrested Seng Kunnaka, a staff of the United Nations’ World Food Program on 17 December after he was accused of sharing with his co-workers leaflets he had sourced from online news blog KI-media. The blog is known for carrying articles critical of the Hun Sen administration.

Two days later, on 19 December, Seng Kunnaka was found guilty by a Phnom Penh court of incitement to commit a crime under Art. 495 of the revised penal code. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and was fined 1 million riel or US$246.

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About SEAPA

SEAPA is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom andResponsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association (TJA); and the network’s Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).