Cambodia: Assault on freedom of expression continues with conviction of UN staff

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) deplores the arrest and conviction of a warehouse staff of the World Food Program (WFP) in Cambodia, all of which occurred in two days. The astonishingly quick conviction on the weekend comes merely nine days after the new Penal Code went into effect on 10 December. The new Code contains a number of problematic provisions that could be used to criminalise the peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression.

Mr Seng Kunnaka was arrested on 17 December before noon by the Russei Keo district police and was accused of sharing with his co-workers leaflets he printed from the online news blog KI-media, which carries articles and opinion pieces that are often critical of the Cambodian government. Barely two days later, on the morning of 19 December, Mr Kunnaka was found guilty by the Phnom Penh court of incitement to commit a felony under article 495 of the new Criminal Code, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined 1 million riel (approximately 188 Euros or 246 US dollars).

The conviction of an individual for simply sharing written materials with his co-workers is the latest example of a persistent trend of the government’s attempt to muzzle dissident and opinions critical of the authorities through repressive legislations. Similarly, Mr Leang Sokchouen, a staff of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), an FIDH member organization, was sentenced to prison on unfounded disinformation charges on 30 August 2010 in a trial marked by glaringly flawed legal proceedings. Mr Leang was accused of involvement in the production and distribution of anti-government leaflets in Takeo province. [1]

“With this latest deliberate assault on freedom of expression, the Cambodian authorities are becoming ever bolder in their repression and the democratic space is getting ever smaller,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “The United Nations system as a whole must stand up for one of its own and for the fundamental rights and freedoms under threat in Cambodia. Countries sending millions upon millions of development assistance to Cambodia must reflect deeply whether their funding has truly contributed to the progress of Cambodia towards greater freedom.”

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