Wednesday, 24 June 2009

UNTAC code, not '95 Press Law, used to prosecute publisher

Written by Sam Rith
Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Hang Chakra says use of UN criminal code, which allows for harsher penalties and possible jail time, is the ‘cruellest thing'

THE publisher of a Khmer-language newspaper is to appear in court Friday, charged with publishing false information after running a series of articles that examined corruption allegedly perpetrated by officials under deputy prime minister Sok An.

Hang Chakra, the publisher of Khmer Machas Srok News, said he felt the Phnom Penh Municipal Court was trying to fast-track his case in order to see him jailed as soon as possible.

He criticised the government for prosecuting him under the 1992 UNTAC criminal code rather than the 1995 Press Law, which carries less severe penalties.

"This is the cruellest thing that has happened to me," Hang Chakra said.

Hang Chakra told the Post he had learned of the case in a June 12 letter from court prosecutor Sok Roeun. In the letter, Sok Roeun informed him that he was accused of "publishing false information" and that he would be tried "according to Article 62 of the UNTAC criminal law".

Chong Cho Ngy, Hang Chakra's lawyer, said he would ask that the court try his client under the Press Law, since the alleged offence relates to a media issue.

Criminal or civil charge?
Under the Press Law, publishing false information is a criminal offence that carries a fine of up to 5 million riels (US$1,250). But the UNTAC criminal code contains much harsher punishments, with offenders facing a prison term of between six months and three years, and a fine of up to 10 million riels.

"The Press Law has existed since 1995, so I don't believe the court should use this outdated law," said Sam Rithy Doung Hak, the deputy director of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, adding that the government ought to withdraw the complaint against Hang Chakra in the interests of seeing democracy move forward.

However, government lawyer Suong Chanthan said he would not withdraw the complaint. "The decision depends on the court," he said.


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