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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Free speech under fire: Licadho

Free speech under fire: Licadho

Five laws proposed or enacted since 2008 demonstrate the “stunning scope of Cambodia’s legislative crackdown on free speech” and the “alarming extent of the government’s growing control of expressive activities”, a report from rights group Licadho warned yesterday.

The laws and draft laws “include dangerously vague and oppressive provisions that undermine freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms”, said the report titled The Delusion of Progress: Cambodia’s Legislative Assault on Expressive Rights.

“New legislation is deliberately drafted and used as a weapon to silence those who speak out against the political and financial elite,” Licadho said.

Cambodian Defenders Project director Sok Sam Oeun was less critical of the legislation and more concerned about how laws are used.

“If you look at the words in the laws and draft laws and interpret them carefully and apply the law fairly, it is not so bad,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “The problem is our legal system and the Criminal Procedure Code.”

In the Cambodian legal system, when someone files a complaint, the police can issue an arrest before conducting an investigation, Sok Sam Oeun explained. The Council of Ministers should not be involved with making complaints, he said, adding that this should be the responsibility of the police and independent courts.

Judicial independence has come under fire recently, most notably on the 20th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, when UN Special Rapporteur  for Human Rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi called for increased efforts to ensure an independent judiciary.

Sok Sam Oeun said that incitement complaints are being increasingly misused by the government and wealthy individuals to silence critics. Twelve people, including a Licadho staff member, are serving lengthy prison sentences for allegedly distributing political leaflets, Licadho’s report points out.

Licadho deputy director Ham Sunrith said some of the laws and draft laws examined in the report were unnecessary because the Kingdom’s Constitution already provides an adequate legal framework. “For example, the NGO law is not needed because several laws already cover this area,” he said.

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