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Rights group condemns Cambodian 'crackdown' on free speech

Written By vibykhmer on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | 9:34 AM

Phnom Penh - A US-based human rights group on Wednesday demanded Cambodia's leaders end what it called a campaign of "harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action" against government critics following a spate of court rulings apparently aimed at limiting free speech. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had filed nine defamation and disinformation suits this year against journalists, opposition party members and civil society leaders.

"The Cambodian government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," the group's director, Brad Adams, said in a statement. "Once again, Hun Sen is showing his true stripes by harassing and threatening to imprison peaceful critics of his increasingly authoritarian government."

The group's demand came a day after Moeung Sonn, president of the non-profit Khmer Civilization Foundation, was sentenced in absentia to two years prison for disinformation, after he accused the government of damaging the historic Angkor Wat temple by installing lighting fixtures in the building's walls.

Moeung Sonn was in France at the time of the ruling.

Last week the publishers of Moneaksekar Khmer, an opposition-affiliated newspaper, closed operations after being threatened with legal action and forced to apologize for recent criticism of government officials, the statement said.

Two opposition lawmakers are expected to face trial for defamation in coming weeks after the CPP-dominated legislature voted to strip the pair of their parliamentary immunity.

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the Human Rights Watch statement was based on "uninformed observations" about Cambodia's media and legal system and "did not tell the whole story."

"I appreciate their concern about freedom of speech, but they incorrectly mixed defamation with the other cases, which relate to misinformation and national security," he said. "The rule of law requires that the government can take people to court to judge whether they are right or wrong."


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