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A Cambodian court has sentenced a professor to more than two years in prison for spreading "disinformation" about the government during his class lectures and in his self-published book.
Teang Narith, who printed and taught from his own textbook, was found guilty on Wednesday of inciting tensions among the Cambodian people. Following a 90-minute hearing, a Phnom Penh municipal court judge said Mr. Teang's book had incited tensions by accusing senior officials of corruption, and even murder.
Over the last year, the Royal Cambodian Government has waged a campaign to silence its critics, targeting independent newspapers and political figures for prosecution and harassment. On more than a dozen occasions, it has suspended, shut or confiscated newspapers or brought criminal complaints against journalists. A controversial new press law is unlikely to halt these abuses as it allows confiscations, closures and criminal prosecutions to continue. This report contains the text of a Human Rights Watch letter to the Cambodian government protesting the censorship campaign and the text of the new press law.
The press law, enacted after much debate and controversy, contains a number of positive features, among them the guarantee that the press has the right to preserve the confidentiality of its sources, the prohibition of pre-publication censorship, and the right of access to government-held information. These assets, however, are undermined by the continued application of criminal law to the publishing of material that “may affect national security or political stability.” The government is presently seeking the investigation and prosecution of as many as five Khmer-language newspapers and one English-language bi-weekly, the Phnom Penh Post. The case of the Post illustrates the weakness of the press law’s guarantees in the face of the government’s determination to press criminal charges. At issue is an article written by Nate Thayer titled “Security jitters while PMs away,” describing various security measures and political intrigues while the prime ministers attended a major donors meeting, attributing some of the information to unnamed official and diplomatic sources. Despite the guarantee that the press has the right to preserve the confidentiality of its sources, a government lawyer has told the Post that the government seeks to learn the identity of these sources for the article at issue.