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NGOs question democracy

A COALITION of 16 human rights NGOs released a report yesterday accusing the Cambodian People’s Party of stifling freedom of expression and urging the international community to act on what it called a deterioration of rights in the Kingdom.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, which commissioned the report, read a statement to reporters yesterday expressing concern that Cambodia was at risk of becoming a “de-facto one-party state”.

“We fear that the Royal Government of Cambodia is moving away from the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia to a de-facto one-party state; a closed society in which laws, systems and actions of the ruling party prevent free opinion and criticism,” he said.

The report asserts that the government has used the courts to silence criticism of its responses to land-grabbing, corruption and border disputes.

It also says the government lifted the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his Sam Rainsy Party counterparts Mu Sochua and Ho Vann to pave the way for trials against them on “politically motivated criminal charges”.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that the report painted an accurate picture of the limits to free expression in Cambodia.
“We suffer from human rights violations, from the people to politicians,” he said. “The human rights situation here is getting worse and worse.”

He said the fear that Cambodia was no longer a democracy was well-founded, and that the international community “should pay attention”.

“If anyone had a dispute with the ruling party, they will never win. This is the first violation of human rights. The government is using the courts as a tool,” he said, and added that the government was also stifling freedom of expression through the imprisonment of journalists.

But senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that although he had not seen the report, he suspected it lacked balance and betrayed an antigovernment bias.
“I think NGOs have exercised their rights and freedom of expression with this report, but the ruling party cannot accept these criticisms,” he said.

He rejected the notion that Cambodia was in danger of becoming a one-party state, or that the CPP had any interest in curbing democratic freedoms.
“Democracy and freedom of expression must respect the laws,” he said. “The government cares about democracy like you would care about your own eyes.”

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