The fractiousness and volatility of Cambodia's political life was readily apparent throughout the year, as was the toll it has taken on the development of an independent press. During a mission to Cambodia and Vietnam in late September by Committee to Protect Journalists board member Peter Arnett and Asia program coordinator Vikram Parekh, the committee found a Cambodian press that for the most part was highly partisan, and vulnerable to violent reprisals for its commentaries on national politics. CPJ found other disturbing conditions, including a judiciary and police forces that afford little security to the local press.
Newspapers supporting the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) – unrecognized by the government and led by Sam Rainsy, a civil liberties proponent who was expelled from the National Assembly in 1995 – were conspicuous targets of legal and extralegal intimidation. Thun Bun Ly, the editor of Odom K'tek Khmer (Khmer Ideal), was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in May, on the same day that the KNP was opening its first office outside Phnom Penh. Official investigations into Bun Ly's murder and those of three journalists killed in 1994 appear to have ground to a halt. In a meeting with Arnett and Parekh, however, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh did promise to address the murders. He described the lack of progress in the investigations as "unacceptable" and pledged to raise the issue with the country's Interior Ministry.
Like the editors of two other pro-KNP papers, Bun Ly had an appeal pending before the Supreme Court against a conviction for defamation and disinformation. While his murder effectively spelled an end to Bun Ly's case, the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of his colleagues, Chan Rotana of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) and Hen Vipheak of Serei Pheap Thmei (New Liberty News). Both were sentenced to prison, but were released a week later, after international organizations condemned the convictions and King Norodom Sihanouk granted both journalists pardons. Cambodia in 1995 had adopted a press law that superseded the disinformation and defamation statutes used to prosecute the three journalists. The new press law dispensed with criminal libel, but the courts refused to apply the new law to Rotana's and Vipheak's appeals.
The 1995 press law included an article that barred the publication of reports threatening to the country's "national security" and "political stability." The provision's ambiguous wording has alarmed many Cambodian journalists, who fear it will be used to silence any critical commentary on the country's internal politics, relations with neighboring countries, and war of attrition with the remaining Khmer Rouge forces. Fueling their anxieties were remarks made in February by State Secretary for Information Khieu Kanharith, in which he warned local newspapers that they faced temporary closure if they published stories deemed demoralizing to the army. In response to CPJ's concern about the law, Information Minister Ieng Mouly told Arnett and Parekh that the government was drafting a subdecree aimed at clarifying the terms, and would present it to local and foreign journalists, as well as nongovernmental organizations, for comment.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to consolidate his position as Cambodia's most powerful official, and most of the country's nominally independent print and broadcast media now have a pronounced tilt in favor of his Cambodian People's Party. But while he is emerging as an influential figure in his own right, Hun Sen's sensitivity to the interests of the Vietnamese government, which has been his strong supporter, was startlingly evident during the year. Between December 1995 and December 1996, the Cambodian government conducted a massive crackdown on anti-Communist ethnic Vietnamese residents of Cambodia, expelling several dozen across the border to Vietnam. Among them was Ly Chandara, the publisher of a Vietnamese-language newspaper in Phnom Penh, who was jailed for seven months in Vietnam before being allowed to return to Cambodia.
Ek Mongkol, FM Radio 90, ATTACKED
Mongkol, the host of two call-in music request programs and a biweekly political commentary show on FM Radio 90, was shot shortly after leaving work. He was riding a motorcycle in downtown Phnom Penh when two men on another motorcyle approached from behind and opened fire, striking him twice in the chest and once in the neck. He was evacuated to a Bangkok hospital, where doctors expected him to make a full recovery. A member of the royalist FUNCINPEC party, which owns FM Radio 90, Mongkol had made statements prior to the shooting decrying what he termed Vietnamese aggression along Cambodia's eastern border. He also had been critical of official corruption in Cambodia. Some local journalists blamed the shooting on FUNCINPEC's pro-Vietnam coalition partner, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Others pointed out that Mongkol was widely known to have engaged female callers in flirtatious on-air banter, leading some to speculate that he may have been shot by a jealous husband or boyfriend.
Ly Chandara, Tu Do, EXPELLED
Chandara, the editor of Tu Do (Freedom), an anti-Communist Vietnamese-language newspaper published in Phnom Penh, was expelled by Cambodian authorities to Vietnam. He was among several dozen ethnic Vietnamese opponents of Hanoi-very loosely affiliated with one another, and collectively termed the "Tu Do Movement"-whom the Cambodian government expelled or threatened with expulsion between December 1995 and December 1996. Chandara was taken into custody at the Vietnamese border and incarcerated in Vietnam for seven months. He was released on Oct. 10 and immediately repatriated to Cambodia, after promising Vietnamese officials that he would not conspire against Vietnam or engage in any other political activity. However, Chandara said in late January 1997 that he was seeking permission from the Cambodian government to relaunch Tu Do. Human rights activists in Phnom Penh had questioned Cambodia's authority to expel Chandara, citing as evidence of his Cambodian citizenship a voter registration card in his name for Cambodia's U.N.-supervised elections in 1993.
Thun Bun Ly, Odom K'tek Khmer, KILLED
Thun Bun Ly, a contributor to and former editor of the opposition newspaper Odom K'tek Khmer (Khmer Ideal), was fatally shot by two unidentified gunmen while riding a motorcycle near a major commercial thoroughfare in central Phnom Penh. He was hit three times: once in the arm, and twice on his upper body. The assailants, who were also riding a motorcycle, fled immediately after the shooting. The attack came the same day that the Khmer Nation Party, of which Thun Bun Ly was a leading member, was to open its first branch office outside Phnom Penh. Cambodian courts convicted Thun Bun Ly twice last year on charges of defamation and disinformation for printing articles, letters to the editor and political cartoons that criticized the government. As a result, Odom K'tek Khmer was ordered permanently closed, and Thun Bun Ly was fined a total of 15 million riels (US$6, 174). If he did not pay the sum, he risked up to three years' imprisonment. Both the fine and the closure order were stayed pending appeals to the Supreme Court, and Thun Bun Ly's requests for amnesty from King Norodom Sihanouk, and Hun Sen. In a letter to Cambodia's co-prime ministers, Prince Norodom Ranriddh and Hun Sen, CPJ expressed its alarm over the killing of Thun Bun Ly and called for a prompt and thorough investigation.
Chan Rotana, Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
The Supreme Court upheld the disinformation conviction of Rotana, editor of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth), as well as his one-year prison sentence and fine of 5 million riels (US$2, 000). Rotana was immediately arrested and imprisoned, but was released on July 5 under a pardon from King Norodom Sihanouk that was agreed to by co-prime ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Rotana had been convicted on Feb. 27, 1995, of violating Article 62 of the Criminal Code, which bars the publication in bad faith and with malicious intent of false news that "has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace." The charges related to an article in the paper's Jan. 12-13, 1995, edition, titled "Ranariddh is More Stupid than Hun Sen Three Times a Day, " which accused Prince Ranariddh of naively following Hun Sen's dictates.
Hen Vipheak, Serei Pheap Thmei, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
The Supreme Court found Vipheak, editor of Serei Pheap Thmei (New Liberty News), guilty of disinformation and upheld his one-year prison sentence and fine of 5 million riels (US$2000). The court struck down a lower court's order for Serei Pheap Thmei to be closed. King Norodom Sihanouk on Aug. 30 granted Vipheak a pardon, consented to by co-Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen, and Vipheak was released the same day. Vipheak had been convicted on May 20, 1995, under Article 62 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws the publication of false information in bad faith and with malicious intent that "has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace." The charges stemmed from a Feb. 6, 1995, article in Serei Pheap Thmei titled "Country of Thieves." It was a satirical commentary on corruption in the various branches of government. Vipheak was also charged for a cartoon that depicted Hun Sen holding a gun to Ranariddh's head. An appeals court on Dec. 22, 1995, upheld his sentence, but Vipheak remained free pending his Supreme Court hearing. The Supreme Court refused to retry Vipheak under Cambodia's new press law, which supersedes Article 62 and does not include libel as a criminal offense.
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