Wednesday, August 5, 2009

UN appeals to Cambodia to respect free speech obligations

Aug 5, 2009

Phnom Penh - The UN's human rights office in Cambodia Wednesday appealed to the judiciary to respect the country's national and international obligations on freedom of speech, saying that a recent spate of lawsuits risks stifling public debate.

Cambodia's courts have found against three defendants in recent weeks, and fined or jailed them for disinformation or defamation.

Human rights groups have complained that the cases, which were brought by the government against perceived critics, are politically motivated.

'Under international law, freedom of expression is to be restricted only in exceptional cases, where clearly necessary and proportionate to the value that the restriction seeks to protect,' the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

Opposition parliamentarian Mu Sochua was found guilty Tuesday of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and fined 16.5 million riel (4,124 dollars).

In June, the editor of an opposition-aligned newspaper was fined and jailed for a year for articles alleging corruption within the government.

And last month, the director of a local cultural organization was fined and sentenced to two years in prison, in absentia, for suggesting that new lighting at Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple could damage the stonework.

The government has consistently denied the charges are politically motivated, saying it is acting only to maintain social order.

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