THE debate on the government’s controversial Law on Nonviolent Demonstrations reopened during a session of the National Assembly on Monday, with opposition lawmakers again expressing concerns the law could be used to stifle freedom of expression for peaceful demonstrators.
The first 14 of the law’s 30 articles were approved during Monday’s session, including Article 14, prohibiting gatherings of more than 200 people without at least 12 hours’ advance permission from the authorities.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who said he has led more than 50 demonstrations, told the assembly that the creation of a new law regulating public gatherings was an important step forward but insisted that the parliament amend some articles to safeguard the right to freedom of expression, and that the government take action to protect participants in legal demonstrations.
“No one has led more demonstrations than I have, so my opinions about demonstrations are based on experience,” he said.
He added that the law as written was acceptable, but that full and proper implementation was vital, citing the grenade attack on a Khmer Nation
Party rally he led in March 1997, which killed at least 13 people, including his personal bodyguard.
The ill-fated protest, he added, had been preceded by official permission from the Ministry of Interior, and the perpetrators of the attack have never been brought to justice.
Sam Rainsy also said, however, that the pretext of “security” and public order – noted in Article 2 of the draft Demonstration Law as justifications for the restriction of legal gatherings – should not be used to stifle basic civil liberties.
“We have said that we need peace,” he said. “If we are lying in a grave, things are nice and quiet, but no one wants ‘grave peace’. We want the peace of an active society. We want a security of freedom, the security of people who live with full rights – not the security of slaves.”
Criticism as unpatriotic
Responding to the opposition concerns, Som Chen, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the Sam Rainsy Party president had sullied the debate with “insults”.
He said that by making comments about “grave peace” and the “security of slaves”, Sam Rainsy was looking down on the King and the Cambodian people. “If we betrayed the nation and sold the nation, why have [people] voted for the CPP?”
During the session, amendments to the law proposed by the SRP and the Human Rights Party were rejected by ruling party officials, who said no changes were necessary. HRP President Kem Sokha told reporters at the assembly that his party would not vote to adopt the law unless changes were made to key articles.
“We have stated clearly why we will not adopt it.... The Demonstration Law has been attached to national security and public order. This is the government’s pretext,” he said.