Days after issuing a controversial gag order, the Cambodian Bar Association was yesterday blasted by a prominent rights group and accused of being a tool of the ruling party.
Pointing to the much-criticised 2004 invalidation of its presidential election – in which human rights lawyer Suon Visal was voted in, but swiftly removed – Human Rights Watch claimed that the Bar Association has found
itself increasingly tied to the government.
“This hotly contested election was part of a successful [Cambodian People’s Party] manoeuvre to increase its control over Cambodia’s legal institutions at the direction of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An,” reads a statement issued by the New York-based group. “Hun Sen and other party figures were later admitted as members of the bar association, despite their lack of legal education and qualifications.”
Association President Bun Hun, who edged out Visal again last November, is a former Ministry of Justice official and ex-Council of Ministers legal councillor.
In the statement – a response to a January 31 order from the bar forbidding lawyers from making unauthorised in-depth comments on radio or television – HRW maintains that Hun still works for the Council of Ministers
Critics have maintained that the newly enforced media restrictions will only serve to hamper the opposition and rights defenders.
Bar Association spokesman Yim Sary, however, “absolutely denied” yesterday the implication that his organisation was “a tool of the ruling CPP”.
“We are a professional institution, and we have organised our profession in accordance with the legal process in order to defend our professionalism and the dignity of our careers,” he said.
The rule isn’t proof that the bar is a CPP tool, said Community Legal Education Center executive director Yeng Virak, but cutting off the flow of legal commentary was unlikely to help those who aren’t in charge.
“There are the rulers and the ruled . . . and for citizens to have their participation in society, they need knowledge, including legal knowledge,” he said.
“Without this legal knowledge – restricting this access to legal information and so on – that means that consequently the people have a lack of legal knowledge.
“It lowers the capacity of the ruled,” he added. “It allows the rulers to manipulate.”
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