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EU Marks Concern Over Freedom of Expression

Three members of the European Union met with Foreign Ministry officials Friday to express their concerns over a recent deterioration of the human rights climate.

The EU, represented by British Ambassador, German Ambassador and the European Commission Charge d’Affairs, met with the ministry’s secretary of state, Ouch Borith, officials said.

The EU said it was concerned “specifically with regard to freedom of expression and the rule of law,” the British Embassy said in a statement.

“The EU expressed concern in this context over a number of instances in which criminal charges of defamation and disinformation have been used against representatives of civil society, the media and the political opposition,” the embassy said.

The EU has a rotating presidency, currently held by Sweden, but it is represented in Phnom Penh by the British Embassy.

Government and court officials are facing increased scrutiny after a raft of cases in the court that appear aimed at dissenters.

Respect for democratic principles and human rights “plays a central part in the political and development relationship between the EU and Cambodia,” the embassy said. “The EU noted that transparency, the rule of law, freedom of expression and open political debate are indisputable elements of democracy.”

One journalist has been jailed on defamation charges, another folded his newspaper to avoid the same, and two Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, including Mu Sochua, were stripped of their immunity as they were sued in different cases for defamation.

Mu Sochua was fined more than $4,000 this week when she lost a suit to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who claimed she had defamed him by lodging a complaint in court over allegedly sexist remarks in a speech in April.

The EU representatives called on the government to take measures to ensure it was “conforming to its national and international commitments, including under the UN human rights instruments to which it is a party,” the embassy said.

Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the head of the government’s human rights body, declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the EU statement.