Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Sunday, September 10, 2006

CAMBODIA: University lecturer allegedly arrested for writing a book critical of

Prime Minister Hun Sen,
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Deputy Prime Minster; and Minister of Justice

It has come to my knowledge that that Teang Narith, law and politics lecturer at Sihanouk Raj Buddhist University in Phnom Penh, who was dismissed on 22 August for writing a book critical of the government, was arrested on September 4. The next day he was brought to court where the investigating judge charged him with the criminal offence of disinformation and sent him to prison. The crime of disinformation carries a prison sentence ranging from six months to three years, a fine from one million to ten million Riels, (US$ 250 to $ 2,500) or both.

Teang Narith, 30 years old, has written a book in the Khmer language entitled Political Philosophy that provides an analysis of the country's political development and its relations with Vietnam. The book which has yet to be published, seeks to highlight the danger that Cambodia is currently facing. Teang Narith is critical of Cambodia's current leadership and has held them responsible, among other things, for a grenade attack on peace demonstrators in 1997 that killed nearly twenty persons and wounded more than one hundred, as well as for the relations with Vietnam that are damaging to Cambodia. The book provides evidence and sources that support his claims.

On 3 August 2006, Teang Narith distributed copies of his manuscript to his students at the university. On August 22, the university's Vice-Rector Hing Yan informed about a letter of concern from Secretary of State for Religions and Cults Chhorn Iem to students with a notice that the course taught by Teang Narith was discontinued. This effectively ended Teang Narith's employment and up until then he had been teaching at the university for four years.

I am very much concerned at Teang Narith's dismissal and arrest for writing a book. This is a blatant violation of his right to freedom of expression and publication guaranteed and protected by Cambodia's constitution. The arrest was carried out when his lawsuit against his dismal had not been adjudicated yet. I understand that according to article 62 of the Cambodian criminal law of 1992, commonly known as UNTAC Law there must be the three constitutive elements combined to be able to prove disinformation: (1) the information must be false, fabricated, falsified or untruthfully attributed to a third person; (2) it must be published, distributed or reproduced in bad faith and with malicious intent; and (3) this publication, distribution or reproduction must have disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace. The prosecution and the investigating judge have not shown even probable evidence to prove that all these three elements are there to charge Teang Narith. I simply know that the situation in Cambodia is stable and peaceful, and the public peace is not disturbed or will ever be disturbed by Teang Narith's book.

I also understand that, under the same Cambodian law as amended, disinformation is a misdemeanour and an offence that bail would be allowed. Considering the lack of probable evidence, Teang Narith should not have been arrested in the first place and, when arrested, should have been allowed bail. He should have his lawsuit against his dismissal adjudicated first.

Teang Narith's arrest and pre-trial detention are very arbitrary. As they have been doing before, the country's leadership has used the courts they control to silence and punish their critics. Teang Narith is yet another victim of such a rule.

I condemn Teang Narith's dismissal from his teaching job, and his arrest and imprisonment. I request the Cambodian government to honour its human rights obligations and stop using the courts to silence its critics. I also request the police, the prosecution and the municipal court of Phnom Penh to drop the charge altogether against Teang Narith.

I further request donor governments, UN agencies, international aid agencies and the international human rights community to work with the Cambodian government and courts to end this persecution of critics of the government and push for Teang Narith's release.

Yours sincerely,
Beatrice J Chuon

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