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Rights Commission Censures Gov't Over Banned Report

The Hong-Kong based Human Rights Commission criticized the government's recent banning of a forestry report as an infringement on free speech.

Hard copies and serialization of a Global Witness report—linking illegal logging to the prime minister and other high-ranking officials—have both been banned by the Ministry of Information.

"The ban infringes upon the right of the media to freedom of expression," the Rights Commission said. "In Cambodia, the freedom of expression is often quashed by government officials to protect their own agendas, under the guise of alleging defamation or otherwise."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, who is also the Minister of Information, dismissed the criticism, saying the government allowed newspapers to report on the document for at least a week before banning it.

The Rights Commission said such a dictate made a "mockery" of free speech.

"For the Information Minister to try and dictate how much of the report is permitted to be published, and for how many days, is a mockery to the meaning of freedom of expression," the group said.

The Global Witness report links Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun to illegal logging, along with the director-general of the government's Forest Administration, Ty Sokhun, and a laundry list of other government and military officials.

All have denied any connection to the crime, and Khieu Kanharith said the ban was for the good of the nation's newspapers and journalists.

The Ministry of Information "feels sorry for the journalists," he said. "Because, be careful, the ministry in [the report] might sue [and] our newspapers will lose money."