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Concern Over Liberties as New Penal Code Is Enacted

“The penal code comprises a total 672 articles, and among some of those articles, we need to take precautions,” said Run Saray, executive director for Legal Aid of Cambodia.

Human Rights Watch has condemned charges of incitement against a man who shared a web article with coworkers as a step back for free expression in Cambodia, while other monitors say the new penal code is cause for concern.

Earlier this month, Seng Kunnaka, an employee of the UN World Food Program, was charged under the newly passed penal code and quickly convicted of incitement, after he shared a story from the strongly anti-government KI Media website with two coworkers. The penal code only went into effect Dec. 10.

He was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison and fined $250 by an extraordinary Sunday court session.

“Cambodia’s new penal code should have put an end to abusive practices, not encouraged new ones,” Phil Robertson, Asia’s deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Speaking as a guest on “Hello VOA” Thursday, Am Sam Ath, monitoring chief for the rights group Licadho, said the case signaled a “falling down” of the freedom of expression.

“We’ve noticed that there are restrictions on unions, communities, as well as non-governmental organizations, journalists, professors and politicians,” he said. “In total, there have been 50 cases that we consider restrictions on freedoms of expression.”

He encouraged a loosening of such restrictions so that decision-makers can clearly understand the nature of problems within the public and act on them.

Khoun Bunny, secretary-general of the Cambodia-International Federation of Journalists, called the new penal code “a huge obstacle” for freedom of expression.

“Those who have an opposite view are victimized continuously, and journalists are continuously victimized, while the government is please to apply two standards,” he said.

“The double standard, here I want to say that if we speak in accordance with, or exalt and praise the government, then we always receive peace, or no persecution or punishment, but in any case that we have the opposite view, or not paralell with the government, then we are victimized with some fault.”