THE National Assembly approved the final articles of the draft Law on Nonviolent Demonstrations on Wednesday, but three days of debate on the controversial legislation have done little to dampen concerns it will restrict the right to freedom of expression.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said after the session that the law would allow the government to use national security and public security as a “pretext” for shutting down demonstrations. “We do not support this law because it is just a pretext to close down the people’s freedom of expression,” he told reporters after the session.
Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, said the law showed just how frightened the ruling Cambodian People’s Party was of “people power”.
“In a democracy, they allow people to protest when the elected government leads the country in an unfair way,” he said. “If protests cannot be resolved, people power will occur.”
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap rejected the accusations, saying the same critics who criticised the government for not passing the law were now slamming the new legislation.
“All laws are important for the nation, not just for the ruling party,” he said, adding that the law could be used by any party that wins an election. “What we are doing is conforming to the situation in Cambodia.”
Under the new law, gatherings of more than 200 people will require organisers to apply for a permit from the government at least 12 hours ahead of time.
Other observers said the law was necessary, but expressed concerns that striking workers and other aggrieved Cambodians could lose a vital outlet for expression.
“There should be a law, but the law should protect people,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre.
“If the workers or the people want to express their opinion, the law should be developed to protect them, not to limit their freedom of expression.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE