Friday, February 22, 2013

JOINT STATEMENT: THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF THE KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA MUST NOT INFRINGE LAWYERS’ FREEDOM OF SPEECH


JOINT STATEMENT: THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF THE KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA MUST NOT
INFRINGE LAWYERS’ FREEDOM OF SPEECH

February 22, 2013 We, the undersigned Cambodian civil society organizations, wish to express our concern at recent moves by the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) to prohibit lawyers from giving radio and television interviews without its prior permission. This infringes not only upon their fundamental right to freedom of expression, but also their ability and professional duty to speak on legal issues- which is in the public interest.

On January 23, the BAKC issued a letter inviting lawyers to join a new working group, which aims to improve the quality of information disseminated by lawyers in public broadcasts. The letter stated that the BAKC would take legal action against any lawyers whose public dissemination of information risks damaging the reputation of the legal profession. Subsequently, on 31 January the Ministry of Information issued an instruction to media  outlets, which requires television and radio stations to seek prior approval from the BAKC before inviting lawyers to speak publicly. The Ministry of Information acted after having been asked by the BAKC to intervene.

Neither the BAKC nor the Ministry of Information have any place determining who can and cannot appear in the Cambodian media - a free and independent media being a cornerstone of any democratic society. In addition, the BAKC and the Ministry of Information should be encouraging lawyers to disseminate legal information, not attempting to stifle their free speech. Cambodian lawyers play a prominent role in explaining the law to the public and in scrutinizing the legal bases of issues which directly affect the lives of ordinary citizens - such as land grabs and forced evictions. Furthermore, considering the increased use of judicial harassment to silence government critics journalists, rights workers, activists, opposition politicians over the past year in Cambodia, it is critical to highlight the important role that lawyers play in pushing for justice to be served in these cases. Lawyers must be permitted to fulfill their duties without improper curtailments on their freedom of speech, which can also impinge on their duty to defend their clients and can encourage self-censorship.

The move to censor what lawyers can and cannot say in public raises serious questions about the BAKC's motives and impartiality, and worse: it could undermine the important role lawyers play in protecting the rights of Cambodian citizens. It should be noted that the BAKC code of ethics formerly contained an article (Article 15), which stipulated that lawyers must receive prior clearance from the BAKC before speaking to the media. However this article (now Article 17) was amended in the newest version of the code and no longer requires that lawyers receive prior clearance before speaking with the media, but requires only that professionalism be upheld.

The right to freedom of expression is expressly guaranteed under Article 41 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia. This right is extended to all Cambodian citizens, including lawyers and the press. Moreover, by virtue of the ratification of relevant international covenants, Cambodia has thereby directly incorporated them into domestic law, as reflected by the Constitution under Article 31. Cambodia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, Article 19 of which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Article 31 of the Constitution also recognizes and respects all rights stipulated under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which similarly guarantees the right to freedom of expression under Article 19.  Furthermore, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides under Principle 23 the right of lawyers to take part in discussion of matters concerning the law.

We the undersigned condemn the actions taken by the BAKC and the Ministry of Information to restrict freedom of the media and the free expression of Cambodian lawyers and we call on both to abandon the instruction to media outlets to seek prior permission from the BAKC before interviewing lawyers, as well as the legal threat to lawyers who speak out through the media.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)

Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cambodia: Government Muzzles Lawyers


The below is content of press release made by Brad Adam, Human Rights Watch: 

Donors Should Demand Free Speech, Independence for Legal Profession
FEBRUARY 11, 2013
Just when you thought the Cambodian government couldn’t think of any new ways to try to muzzle critics, it has imposed an election-year ban on lawyers giving radio and television interviews. This ban dramatically demonstrates the government’s aim to control the media and the legal profession, but more broadly makes a mockery of free speech in a democratic society.
Brad Adams, Asia director
(New York) – The Cambodian government and bar association should drop their efforts to prohibit lawyers from giving media interviews without the permission of the national bar association, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 8, 2013,   Information Minister Khieu Kanharith made public a January 31 instruction to radio and television stations not to invite lawyers to appear on programs without the approval of the Cambodian Bar Association.
International donors should quickly and publicly press the Cambodian government to reverse its latest move against freedom of expression.
“Just when you thought the Cambodian government couldn’t think of any new ways to try to muzzle critics, it has imposed an election-year ban on lawyers giving radio and television interviews,” saidBrad Adams, Asia director. “This ban dramatically demonstrates the government’s aim to control the media and the legal profession, but more broadly makes a mockery of free speech in a democratic society.”
The January 31 instruction notes that many radio and television stations have invited lawyers to appear on their programs to interpret and explain the law to the public, and to comment on government policies for legal and judicial reform.
It then says: “To avoid the negative consequences upon the people of such legal dissemination programming and to ensure that such dissemination has good consequences, the Ministry of Information instructs all radio and television stations that all invitations to lawyers and other legal professionals to speak as interpreters of the law must be invited via the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” 
This instruction was coupled with a “letter of warning” from the Cambodian Bar Association, also dated January 31, which says that “from now on, lawyers must not give interviews or otherwise disseminate information related to their profession as lawyers via any media whatsoever without the authorization of the Bar.” The bar’s order would effectively prevent lawyers from making any statement through the print media as well as broadcast media without the bar’s approval.
The actions of the Information Ministry and the Cambodian Bar Association appear designed to prevent criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Many lawyers have become outspoken critics of the government and courts, which are frequently used to imprison or intimidate critics.
Opposition political party figures, critics of the government, and those resisting CPP-backed abuses, such as land-grabbing, have been increasingly subjected in recent years to groundless prosecutions, judicial investigations, and unfair trials leading to wrongful convictions and prison sentences.
Under the new rules, lawyers will not be allowed to give unapproved media interviews on subjects such as the use of the judiciary against political opponents. Among them are the opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is in self-imposed exile to avoid a politically motivated conviction, and Mom Sonando, the owner of a radio station that once gave much airtime to critical legal programming. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on false charges of fomenting a supposed armed insurrection.
The rules are also likely to discourage lawyers from using the media to assert the legal rights of groups such as the estimated 700,000 Cambodians who have been adversely affected by land-grabbing.
The new instructions seem particularly aimed at lawyers working for Cambodian human rights organizations. Hun Sen and senior government officials have frequently attacked domestic human rights groups, accusing them of being members of the political opposition or of causing instability after they have documented government violations. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that: “Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights…without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action.” 
“The government treats critics as enemies of the state, but to provide effective representation, lawyers often need to speak out against government policies and practices that violate human rights,” Adams said. “The new censorship regime of the government and bar association attempts to gag some of the most effective and professional government critics.”
The Cambodian Bar Association was re-established in 1995 for the first time since the Khmer Rouge period, 1975 to 1979. By statute the legal profession is supposed to be “an independent and autonomous profession involved in serving justice.” However, the bar association has been under de facto CPP control since 2004, when the party engineered an election of the bar president by overturning the victory of an independent candidate and installing a CPP-approved figure in his place.
This hotly contested election was part of a successful CPP maneuver to increase its control over Cambodia’s legal institutions at the direction of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. Hun Sen and other party figures were later admitted as members of the bar association, despite their lack of legal education and qualifications.
The current bar association president, Bun Hon, is a former CPP appointee as undersecretary of state at the Justice Ministry who has spoken out in favor of Hun Sen’s political leadership. Sok An strongly backed Bun Hon’s election as president of the bar association and presided at his installation ceremony in November 2012. Bun Hon reportedly continues to serve as a member of the Council of Jurists at the Council of Ministers, which reports to Sok An and Hun Sen.
“Donor countries have spent a lot of time and money trying to develop an independent and professional legal profession, which had been destroyed during the Khmer Rouge years,” Adams said. “Particularly in an election year, donors need to speak out loud and clear about this attack on the independence of lawyers and free speech. They would never tolerate this kind of restriction in their own countries, and shouldn’t accept it in Cambodia, either.”
Below is instruction letter from Ministry of Information in Khmer version