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Officials target enemies with 'disinformation' laws

Freedom of expression is under attack in Cambodia, with government officials increasingly getting away with misusing criminal defamation, disinformation and incitement laws to crack down on critics, say the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), SEAPA partners, and Human Rights Watch.

Since April, Cambodian government leaders and military officials have used the laws against at least nine opposition members, lawyers and journalists who they have political or personal grievances with, according to Human Rights Watch.

In the most recent case, SEAPA reports that on 14 July, Moeung Son, chairman of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, was sentenced to two years in jail and fined 15 million riels (approximately US$3,750) for disinformation. Moeung Son was charged after he criticised the government agency in charge of rebuilding the ancient temple of Angkor Wat, saying the lights the agency is installing will damage the walls. After the verdict was handed down, Moeung Son fled to France, SEAPA reports.

Government officials have even stretched the defamation law to apply to graffiti, according to Human Rights Watch and SEAPA. In June, law student Soung Sophorn was convicted of defamation and ordered to pay 5 million riels for spray-painting slogans criticising the government on a house he lived in that was to be demolished for private development. SEAPA Sophom was protesting against the forced evictions of 4,000 families, most of whom are poor.

Journalists targeted by information laws include Hang Chakra, an opposition newspaper owner who was sentenced in June to one year in prison for publishing articles that exposed alleged cases of government corruption. Dam Sith, another newspaper owner, was forced to stop publishing on 10 July so that the suits filed against him would be dropped, reports Human Rights Watch.

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  • Harshest crackdown in years, says Human Rights Watch

    In recent months, senior government leaders and military officials have filed at least nine politically motivated criminal defamation and disinformation cases against critics.

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