Re: Follow-Up Letter: Mr. Sam Chankea, Coordinator, Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
To: H.E. Samdech Hun Sen et al.
From: Gail Davidson
We are following up on our letter of 12 January 2011 concerning Mr. Sam Chankea, Coordinator of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). On 25 January 2011, the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court convicted Mr. Sam Chankea of defamation pursuant to Article 305 of the Penal Code and ordered him to pay four million riel in compensation and fines. We understand that the charges were brought by the KDC International Company, a development company allegedly owned by Lauk Chumteav Chea Kheng, the wife of Cambodia’s Minister of Mining and Energy. The defamation charges arose from a statement Mr. Sam Chankea made 26 December 2009 during an interview on Radio Free Asia about an ongoing case involving the KDC International Company in which the land rights of 108 families in Kampong Chhnang are affected. Mr. Sam Chankea stated that “what the company has done is an act of violation since the court has yet to rule on the merits of the case. Therefore the company should suspend the activity and await the ruling on the merits of the case”.
International human rights law binding on Cambodia gives Mr. Sam Chankea with the right to express his opinion about this human rights issue. Cambodia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which, in Article 19(2), provides the right to freedom of expression. Cambodia’s Constitution also provides for freedom of expression. Furthermore, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states in Article 18(3) that individuals and non-governmental organizations have a right and responsibility to promote international human rights. Article 6 provides the responsibility of human rights defenders to draw public attention to human rights concerns.
Article 305 of Cambodia’s new Penal Code provides for limitations on these rights. LRWC is of the opinion that the limitations on freedom of expression provided in Article 305 are both ambiguous and overly broad. Of particular concern is the fact that Article 305 is capable of being interpreted and misused so as to violate Cambodia’s international human rights obligations concerning freedom of expression. LRWC is also of the view that the case against Mr. Sam Chankea is an example of abuse of Article 305 by a non-state actor in contravention of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. We point out that United Nations officials have long urged that all countries repeal criminal defamation laws in favour of civil laws. Accordingly, we urge your government to repeal Article 305 of the Penal Code.
In addition, LRWC is aware of the deep and persistent concerns of United Nations human rights bodies and many international cooperation agencies regarding lack of independence of prosecutors and courts in Cambodia. We urge your government to ensure the independence of each and every judge in Cambodia at all levels of courts. In particular, we urge your government to ensure that there is no political or other interference with the independence of the Appeal Court in any processes for review of Mr. Sam Chankea’s case, so that the case can be reviewed in complete conformity with Cambodia’s Constitution and international human rights obligations.
We strongly call upon your government to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders, and to ensure that they face no reprisals from state or non-state actors because of their duties to express their opinions about human rights issues in Cambodia.