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Journalist gets jail term for exposing corruption in government

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A Cambodian court sentenced the publisher and editor-in-chief of a local newspaper to a year of imprisonment and also fined him 9 million Riels (approx. US$2200) over charges of disinformation and "dishonoring" public officials, media sources said.

Hang Chakra was charged after running a series of articles in the "Khmer Machas Srok" newspaper exposing corruption allegedly perpetrated by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

The publisher and editor criticized the Cambodian government for prosecuting him under the UNTAC criminal code instead of the Press Law of 1995. The former has harsher penalties, including jail time, he said.

Hang Chakra told the "The Phnom Penh Post" that he had learned of the case against him in a June 12 letter from court prosecutor Sok Roeun. In the letter, Sok Roeun informed him that he was accused of "publishing false information" and that he would be tried "according to Article 62 of the UNTAC criminal law".

Chong Cho Ngy, Hang Chakra's lawyer, had asked that the court try his client under the Press Law, since the alleged offence relates to a media issue.

The "Phnom Penh Post" quoted Chakra as saying being charged under the UNTAC Code was "the cruelest thing that has happened to me."

Under the Press Law, publishing false information is a criminal offence that carries a fine of up to 5 million Riels (approx. US$1200). But the UNTAC criminal code contains much harsher punishments, with offenders facing a prison term of between six months and three years, and a fine of up to 10 million Riels (approx. US$2400).

"The Press Law has existed since 1995, so I don't believe the court should use (the UNTAC Code)," said Sam Rithy Doung Hak, the deputy director of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, adding that the government ought to withdraw the complaint against Hang Chakra in the interests of seeing democracy move forward.
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