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King Norodom Sihamoni pushes for release of jailed journalist

(SEAPA/IFEX) - King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia has indicated to Prime Minister Hun Sen his interest in granting amnesty to Hang Chakra, the opposition newspaper publisher who received a one-year prison term in June 2009 after being convicted of disinformation, media reports said.

The "Phnom Penh Post" said that an earlier appeal from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) had prompted the King to push for amnesty.

"I have received a letter from the SRP dated October 23, 2009, asking me to give amnesty to "Khmer Machas Srok" newspaper publisher Hang Chakra, currently imprisoned at Prey Sar prison on disinformation charges," the letter stated. "I am submitting this letter to Samdech Techo (Hun Sen), head of the Royal Government, for consideration."

Hang Chakra was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 26 June for spreading disinformation, earning him a one-year prison term and a fine of 9 million riels (US$2,250).

This case stemmed from a series of articles Hang Chakra published in April and May accusing officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption.

According to the "Phnom Penh Post", Article 27 of the Constitution provides that the King has "the right to grant partial or complete amnesty" to any Cambodian subject. However, a sub-decree predating the 1993 Constitution requires the premier to issue a formal request before amnesty can be granted.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the only chance for justice would be through royal intervention. "The courts are not independent - they are influenced by the ruling party. We can't trust anybody else but the King," he said.

He added that the King's request for the release of the journalist is an indication that the monarch believes that Hang Chakra is innocent. "He is a prisoner of conscience," Yim Sovann said of Hang Chakra, whose imprisonment has attracted condemnation from regional and international groups.

Um Sarin, director of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said this is not the first time that the King has intervened on behalf of a journalist. "It is the last resort of ordinary people," he said.

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