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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Without debate, Assembly passes heavily criticised denial law

Without debate, Assembly passes heavily criticised denial law

A controversial draft law making illegal to deny Khmer Rouge crimes was passed this morning -- unanimously and with no debate -- during a specially convened session of the National Assembly.

The law would make it illegal to deny crimes committed during Democratic Kampuchea, outlining punishments of up to two years in prison and fines of up to $1,000. Similarly, people could be prosecuted for glorifying, opposing, downplaying or refusing to recognize the crimes that occurred under the Khmer Rouge, while legal entities -- including companies and political parties -- can be punished if their representatives are found guilty.

During an hourlong session this morning, 86 ruling party and Funcinpec lawmakers offered no pushback on the highly criticised law. Instead, after each of the brief, five articles were read out, lawmakers stood up to praise the law their party had drafted a week ago and, at times, to share their own suffering under the Khmer Rouge.

No opposition members were present. All 27 Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party lawmakers were stripped of their elected posts Wednesday by the National Assembly’s CPP-controlled permanent committee.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party, a merger of the two opposition parties, along with legal experts and rights monitors have decried the committee’s decision as illegal. On Thursday, the CNRP sent a letter calling on National Assembly president Heng Samrin to intervene.

At parliament Friday morning, committee representatives defended their decision.

“The National Assembly should not receive the opposition lawmakers because those members of parliament are not lawmakers anymore according to the law,” said CPP lawmaker and National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun. “They should not wear the National Assembly pin anymore.”

The denial law was drafted just a week ago amid controversy surrounding alleged comments by CNRP leader Kem Sokha. In an audio clip released by the government, Sokha can be heard saying that the infamous Tuol Sleng detention centre was “staged,” though he has since come out and insisted the words were edited and taken out of context.

While the law could not be used to prosecute Sokha retroactively, it could be used should he repeat his statements, said senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap.

Once it is rubberstamped by the Senate and the King, “if any individual says or if Kem Sokha repeats [what he said earlier], he will be imprisoned according to this law,” Yeap told the assembly.

As criticism of the law continues to mount, with political analysts and rights groups slamming its dangerous implications for free speech and its apparent political undertones, ruling party lawmakers stood firm yesterday.

Though it has taken less than two weeks to move from Hun Sen’s lips to draft to passage, if anything, said Vun, it was too slow.

“Some say that this law has been passed too quickly. In fact, passing this law is too late. If we had passed this law earlier, there would not be any individual saying that Tuol Sleng is an artificial prison.”

The opposition, for its part, said it agreed a denial law should have been passed years ago. But the fact it had never been a topic of discussion until the government released what the party says is a doctored tape proved it is little more than a political tool.

“We need a law that the National Assembly passes because it is [comprehensive] and good, but we do not need a law that is passed quickly like this,” said Ou Chanrith, an HRP member who was stripped of his parliamentary post this week. “We need time to study it but the [CPP] passed this law because of political gain.”

“If Prime Minister Hun Sen hadn’t requested it, there wouldn’t be this law.”

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