Declaring that the recent arrests of a Cambodian journalist and a teachers’ leader on charges of defamation “are highly irregular, and illustrate a deeply worrying trend,” a senior United Nations human rights official today called on the authorities to reconsider the issue and ensure the two have free access to legal counsel.
Radio journalist Mam Sonando was arrested on 11 October and charged with defamation. Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association was arrested on 15 October on charges of defamation and “incitement of others to commit a criminal offence without the offence being committed.”
The charges relate to an interview on border issues on Beehive radio station, which Mam Sonando directs, and a statement by the Cambodia Watchdog Council, signed by Rong Chhun and three other Council members, criticizing a border agreement between Vietnam and Cambodia.
“These events raise a number of concerns relating to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Cambodia's Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht, said in a statement.
During the period 2004 to 2005, the Cambodian Government or government officials have brought at least eight charges of defamation against the media, he added.
“The Special Representative urges the authorities to reconsider the charges against Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun, and to ensure that they have free and unhindered access to legal counsel and their families pending their release,” the statement said.
Mr. Leuprecht called for criminal proceedings against other signatories of the 11 October statement and against Prince Thomico Sisowath for opinions he has expressed on border issues to be dropped immediately.
“The Special Representative strongly appeals to the Cambodian authorities to honour their commitments under domestic and international human rights law,” the statement concluded.