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Government fires back at critics, rights activists

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Press and Quick Reaction Unit deputy president Keo Remy speaks at the Council of Ministers Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

The recent deluge of comments critical toward the Cambodian government is an attempt to sow political chaos, a senior official said yesterday.

At a press conference held at the Council of Ministers, Keo Remy, deputy chairman of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit, blasted several individuals and rights groups including UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Surya Subedi, Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams, opposition party members and the many vocal supporters of recently convicted Beehive radio owner Mam Sonando.

“Human rights and civil society groups and the opposition party are creating a culture of impunity to support convicted persons against the elected government,” said Remy, co-opting a phrase frequently employed by those critical of  breakdowns in the judiciary and law enforcement.

Civil society groups praised the 2012 commune election process, pointed out Remy, who suggested observers like Subedi were only now complaining about issues such as the political composition of the National Election Committee in order to create problems with the election next July.

“Subedi and Brad Adams accused the government of eliminating voter rights, but they have to look into the law, as the convicted person [opposition leader Sam Rainsy] has no right to vote,” added Remy.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said it was unfortunate the government showed so little good will to civil society, noting its aim was to protect democracy.

“I regret that the ruling party and dictator have never had good ties with the UN but rather dismissed the UN’s role,” he said.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project and Sonando’s lawyer, called criticism fundamental to a functioning democracy.

“It is normal in democratic countries to express opinions and criticism.”

Otherwise, “there is no reason to have freedom of expression. I think this reaction [of Remy’s] is not reasonable”.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at sokheng.vong@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Justine Drennan

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