Cambodian editor to serve time for disinformation, Updated August 14, 2009 10:50:24

Cambodia's free press was dealt another blow this week, with the Phnom Penh Appeal Court upholding a criminal conviction of a newspaper editor who ran stories on corruption at high levels of government. Hang Chakra looks set to spend a year in jail on charges of disinformation after publishing articles earlier this year which alleged widespread corruption by officials working for Cambodia's deputy Prime Minister, Sok An.

Human Rights Watch and local NGOs say the verdict is the latest in a series of legal attacks against critics of the government, and will increase the control of the ruling Cambodian People's Party's over the media.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Kathleen O'Keefe, co-founder of the Phnom Penh Post; Moeun Chhean Nariddh, the director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies

NARIDDH: Chakra is the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok newspaper which is one of the opposition party aligned newspapers. He was in charged with damaging the national interest as well as affirming the Minister for the Council of Ministers.

COCHRANE: And Kathleen, if I can cross to you, Hang Chakra worked for the newspaper, Khmer Machas Srok which is considered to be loyal to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. How important do you think politics were in this case?

O'KEEFE: It's very difficult to say exactly what all the motivating factors were. What we are seeing is that the judiciary is increasingly being used to attack anybody who expresses dissenting opinion. It's really part of a larger attack or larger crackdown on free expression, which has been intensifying since 2005.

COCHRANE: And what affect has this had on the media environment in Cambodia?

O'KEEFE: I think it has had a major impact, particularly in the wake of last year's assassination on a journalist and his son just before the elections, it sent a resounding message to the entire press corp, that they should think very, very carefully before writing anything. I think the Chakra case, it's very important, because it notes regression of freedom of expression. This is the first time in many, many years that a journalist has not only been imprisoned, but he's [been] tried and convicted on criminal charges.

Like last year's assassination, this is another major step backwards for Cambodia's media.

Until recently, we were moving away from killing journalists in the streets and putting them in jail and the problems of the media were more intimidation. I mean they were not any less serious, but they were less violent. So what we are doing is returning to the violence and the imprisonment of media.

COCHRANE: And Kathleen, you have been involved for many years in training journalists. Will this make your work more difficult in trying to encourage reporters to be brave, to be bold, and report truth to power?

O'KEEFE: The good journalists will always need encouragement. They need encouragement from everybody and a wider group of people need to recognise how important free media is to the other important objectives in Cambodia - to build a strong judiciary, to build a strong sense of governance. The media is plagued by corruption and political interference and those are the root causes that media training has never addresses.

COCHRANE: Nariddh can I cross over to you. What's the feeling amongst Cambodian journalists after the assassination that Kathleen mentioned last year just before the election and now the upholding of this conviction against the editor of an opposition newspaper? What's the feeling amongst Cambodian journalists at the moment?

NARIDDH: I think among the Cambodian journalists, they seem to have exercise censorship by refraining from reporting on controversial or sensitive issues related to corruption, land grabbing or injustice committed by rich businessmen or high-ranking officials. So even the usually outspoken opposition newspapers have now tried to keep a low profile.

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