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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rash of lawsuits sees Cambodia crack down on dissenters

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok


Asia is no stranger to governments using the courts to muzzle their detractors, but the Cambodian government's current legal attack on its opponents is causing concern in the region.

Hang Chakra, former editor of the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, is sharing a cell with 50 other convicts in Phnom Penh's notorious Prey Sar prison, serving a one-year sentence for articles that alleged corruption among government officials.

Moeung Sonn, head of the Khmer Cultural Civilisation Foundation, was last month sentenced to two years in jail in absentia for "disinformation" after suggesting that a new lighting system at the Angkor Wat temple complex might damage the 600-year-old buildings.

And on Friday, a court is to hand down its verdict in a case against Mu Sochua, an opposition parliamentarian accused of defamation against Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister.

"I'm sure I will be found guilty unless there is some magic in the air, and I don't feel that there is," she said yesterday.

"The Cambodian government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said last week.

The case against Mu Sochua, a former minister for women and veteran's affairs, is based on her allegation that Hun Sen called her "strong leg" - a cutting insult in Khmer culture - in a speech in her constituency in early April. When he declined to apologise, she called a press conference in which she alleged that not just herself, but all Cambodian women had been insulted.

That allegation provoked a counter-suit from Hun Sen. The courts threw out her case but agreed to hear Hun Sen's complaint.

Her lawyer withdrew after he came under pressure, provoking a protest from the office of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mu Sochua declined to find a different attorney. "I am not going to put another lawyer through that torture," she said.

If she is found guilty, she will face a fine of about $2,500 (€1,760, £1,520). More importantly, she could lose the right to sit in parliament. Some analysts say that might be Hun Sen's intention.
"The concept of pluralism hasn't got any roots in Cambodia," said David Chandler, a professor of history at Monash University in Australia. "The opposition is almost by definition disloyal."

Son Chhay, another outspoken opposition parliamentarian, says the recent crackdown is a symptom of a government that is trying to address the issues facing the country, such as corruption, land seizures and economic stagnation.

"Like many dictatorial regimes in the region, because they are unable to solve the problems, they resort to measures to control the people and shut them up," he said.

"If he allowed Mu Sochua to challenge him, other people might go down the same path," said Son Chhay.

In the early 1990s, the international community invested some $1.5bn in a UN operation to restore civil government to a country that Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, had run since 1985.

The opposition fears the prime minister is using his parliamentary majority - the CPP won 90 of the 123 seats in parliament in elections last year - to destroy fragile institutions that have taken years to build.

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Cambodian cases intensify concern

By Tim Johnston


Cambodia's government is under fire because of its legal attack on opponents. Hang Chakra, former editor of the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, shares a cell with 50 other convicts in Phnom Penh's notorious Prey Sar prison, serving a one-year sentence for articles that alleged corruption among government officials.

Moeung Sonn, head of the Khmer Cultural Civilisation Foundation, was last month sentenced to two years in jail in absentia for "disinformation" after suggesting a new lighting system at the Angkor Wat temple complex might damage the 600-year-old buildings.

On Friday, a court is to hand down its verdict in a case against Mu Sochua, an opposition parliamentarian accused of defamation against Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister. "I'm sure I will be found guilty unless there is some magic in the air - and I don't feel that there is," she said.
"The . . . government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.


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Exchange Programme For Cambodian Legal Officers

SHAH ALAM, The Asean Law Association of Malaysia will organise an exchange programme for eight officers of the Cambodian Justice Ministry with the objective of providing better understanding of Malaysia's law and legal system.

"The pilot project is also to promote cooperation and solidarity among members of the legal profession between Malaysia and Cambodia," said S. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Standing Committee on Asean Students Exchange Programme, Asean Law Association of Malaysia.

The programme is organised with the support and assistance from Cambodian Ambassador to Malaysia Princess Norodom Arunrasmy and staff of the Cambodian embassy.

Radhakrishnan said Cambodia was the first country in the Asean region to be invited to join the programme which will take place on Aug 2-8.

"The eight officers will be attached to four legal firms throughout the programme," he told Bernama.

He said the Asean Law Association of Malaysia would consider extending the programme to other Asean countries based on the evaluation and feedback upon the completion of the pilot project.

Chief Justice Tan Sri Zaki Azmi, who is also the Asean Law Association of Malaysia president, is scheduled to launch the programme at the Royal Selangor Club, Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur on Aug 3.

Ambassadors and high commissioners from the Asean countries are expected to attend the function.

The Asean Law Association of Malaysia, established in 1980, is the Malaysian chapter of the regional organisation known as the Asean Law Association (ALA).

The primary objective of ALA is to promote greater cooperation and better understanding among members of the legal profession in the Asean region.

The secretariat of the regional body is in Bangkok, Thailand.

-- BERNAMA
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Vietnam invests 200 mln USD on Cambodian Air, banking

PHNOM PENH, A signing ceremony was held on Sunday by Cambodia and Vietnam on the establishment of Cambodian Air Carrier which was a joint venture between Vietnam Airline and National Cambodia Air Carrier namely Cambodia Angkor Air.

"Vietnamese side has invested 100 million U.S. dollars capital in Cambodia Angkor air," Sok An, deputy prime minister and minister in charge of the Council of Ministers, said at the signing ceremony which was presided over by Prime Minister Hun Senand visiting Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong, who is also representative of the prime minister of Vietnam.
"Cambodia will have 51 percent share and Vietnamese side controls 49 percent," Sok An said, adding that the Cambodian new airline will help to push the tourism sector in the Kingdom while the world has met with global economic and financial crisis. The Vietnamese investment on Cambodia Angkor Air will be processed for30 years, Sok An said.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has also invested another 100 million U.S. dollars to open the Bank for Development and Investment of Vietnamand Insurance sector in Cambodia.

This investment has showed the confidence from Vietnamese side on the economic growth of Cambodia, Sok An said, adding that it is the pride of the country that we have our own national flag in aircarrier. He stressed that the new airline we will launch the official flight tomorrow.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the ceremony that "I would like to urge the new Cambodia Angkor Air to strengthen the management on safety and security for all travelers".

Additionally, Thong Khong, Cambodian Tourism Minister told reporters that tourism is one of the key sector in the country and"this year we expected to have two to three percent increase on this sector." For the first six month of this year, the tourism sector decreased about one percent across the country, however, incapital Phnom Penh it has increased 14 to 16 percent so far.

Last year, Cambodia achieved about two million of the foreign tourists.

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Cambodia A/H1N1 flu case rises to 17

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia's confirmed A/H1N1 flucases have increased to 17 and the latest case is a 22-year-old Irish woman who traveled from Vietnam, health officials said here on Sunday.

"So far, nobody has died in the country," said Ly Sovan, deputydirector of the communicable disease control department. The latest person is in a stable condition and is recovering well.

Mom Bun Heng, Cambodian health minister, told reporters that his ministry has strengthened the tracking system at two main airports, Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap International Airport by using thermal scanners.

"Our officials also have been observing the travelers coming into the country through border gates," he added. Earlier this week, Cambodian Health Ministry issued a call to appeal people notto travel to neighboring Thailand if they were not in urgent need.

Cambodia's first case of influenza A/H1N1 was confirmed on June23, 2009.

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