Dec 9, 2010
Phnom Penh - A leading rights group warned Thursday that Cambodia's new penal code, which is to be enacted this week, could be used to criminalize freedom of expression.
Speaking ahead of Friday's International Human Rights Day, Licadho director Naly Pilorge said the law contained a number of clauses that could result in fines and imprisonment for people speaking out.
'Unfortunately, with the new penal code taking effect on December 10, we may see two or three steps backward for 2011,' she said.
Pilorge said that from Friday, comments like those made this year by UN human rights head Navi Pillay, who criticized Cambodian court judgements against the leader of the opposition and a senior member of his party, could see the person making them jailed for up to six months.
In a brief accompanying report, Licadho said it was concerned the 'courts will stretch this provision to include literally anything the judiciary does and thus criminalize all criticism of the judiciary.'
'The scope of these provisions is breathtaking,' Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek said.
The organization identified nine sections in the law that it said could pose 'a serious threat' to people's right to speak out.
Among them was the 'vague and highly subjective' definition of contempt, which carries a jail term of up to six days.
'Taken to the extreme, the article essentially criminalizes all acts which hurt the feelings of public officials,' it said, adding that the provision could be used in land evictions to detain community activists or people who insult police when their land is taken from them.
This year, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Cambodia Surya Subedi noted that the judiciary was failing in key areas. Such comments could now see him jailed if repeated under the new laws, Licadho said.
The Cambodian government has been criticized in recent years for its thin-skinned approach to dealing with its critics and repeated efforts to clamp down on its detractors in politics, civil society and the media.