THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has responded to European Union claims that a recent series of defamation lawsuits is undermining freedom of expression, arguing that the government is "more than ever" committed to the promotion and protection of basic rights.
In a statement Tuesday, ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the government viewed human rights "from a comprehensive and long-term perspective".
"While individual rights, freedom of expression and a culture of debates are taking deeper roots in Cambodia, we must recognise that the exercise of these rights and freedoms ... must be within the rule of law," the statement said.
It also claimed that the recent defamation and disinformation verdicts were intended to protect individuals' "right to dignity", and were taking place "in compliance" with the law.
The statement came following a Friday meeting between EU representatives and Ouch Borith, a secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, in which the Europeans expressed concerns that recent lawsuits could have "serious consequences for civil society's willingness to engage in democratic debate".
A classified terms of reference from the meeting, approved by the EU's 27 members, also stated the government had shown "disregard" for speech protections in place for elected political representatives.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said the response from the Foreign Ministry was unconvincing, coming the same day as opposition publisher Hang Chakra had his appeal against a disinformation conviction thrown out by the Appeal Court.
"The reality [in Cambodia] is different," he said, noting that "even the junta in Myanmar" called itself democratic.
"Checks and balances are very weak. The judiciary is run by the ruling party. No other democratic country has a system like this."
But he said the EU, a major aid donor, could force the government into making reforms.
"If there is pressure from the international community, I think they will change," he said. "This country cannot live on its own."