A controversial order instructing lawyers to consult the Cambodian Bar Association before making public statements was triggered by comments made by an attorney involved in the high-profile legal battle involving mobile operator Mfone, a spokesman confirmed on Monday.
Kuoy Thunna—who is representing Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei in its battle to recover more than $65 million in unpaid bills from the bankrupt Mfone—was told in a letter dated January 31—also posted on the Bar Association’s website—to cease speaking to the media.
The letter said Mr. Thunna had breached Article 15 of the Lawyer’s Code of Ethics, which stipulates that lawyers should not give false information or engage in self-promotion. This article has never before been applied to stop a lawyer from talking to the media.
On the same day, the Information Ministry, at the request of the Bar Association, issued a statement telling journalists to go through the association when seeking comment from lawyers.
Bar Association spokesman Yim Sary reiterated on Monday that all lawyers should get approval before speaking with the media, but said the statements put out about the rule were issued specifically as a result of Mr. Thunna talking to reporters.
“The ban happened after Mr. Kuoy Thunna did wrong and the Bar Association doesn’t want other lawyers to follow him,” Mr. Sary said.
“We have a ban for all lawyers not to talk with the media [before approval] because some lawyers recently provided interviews with some media and they don’t respect professionalism,” he added.
The only court proceedings in Mr. Thunna’s casebook at the moment are the injunction granted against Mfone after the complaint from Huawei, and another court injunction against Mfone, granted in October, relating to another $3.73 million owed to Norway’s Eltek.
In January, Mfone agreed to transfer its roughly 400,000 subscribers to MobiTel, the telecommunications operator owned by well-known businessman Kith Meng.
During both injunctions against Mfone, Mr. Thunna spoke to reporters about the details of the cases. And in comments published the day before the Bar Association’s letter, Mr. Thunna told a reporter that the transfer of subscribers was a breach of the injunction against Mfone.
“Mfone is using tricks to avoid paying my clients,” he was quoted as saying.
A high-profile lawyer, Mr. Thunna has previously represented controversial media personality Soy Sopheap and Taiwanese company Hong Tung Resource, which was involved in a legal dispute with Nim Heng Group—a company owned by the wife of Cambodian Armed Forces General Nim Meng —over a joint copper mining venture in Siem Reap province. Mr. Thunna declined to comment.
Some legal experts have denounced the Bar’s recent edict, saying it was in violation of the freedom of speech and unconstitutional.
Lor Chunthy, a lawyer at Legal Aid Cambodia, said limiting lawyers’ public comments could reduce people’s understanding of the judicial system.
“It would be a problem if it affects what is published and broadcast because, how can people understand about the law if all lawyers are banned to talk?” he said.
However, Matthew Rendall, a partner at legal adviser Sciaroni & Associates, said that it was not unusual in other countries for lawyers to be restricted in what they can say publicly about ongoing cases, but that courts usually enforced this case-by-case.
“Given that the Huawei case is a court proceeding, it may be that they shouldn’t be talking,” he said.
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