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State secrets law won’t stifle press, official says

A state secrets law being drafted by the Interior Ministry will not be used to target reporting on sensitive issues such as corruption, a senior military police official said yesterday.

Instead, the draft law squarely aims to protect information that could compromise national security, spokesman Kheng Tito said.

The National Police announced that the law was being drafted late last month following a meeting with officials from Vietnam’s Defence Ministry. Rights groups have since raised concerns that it might be used to silence dissidents and reporters, and have urged public consultation.

Tito said yesterday that “experts” were currently drafting the law, but he did not have specific details of what provisions it contained. But he said that “it’s not about hiding information, such as corruption”.

“I think that this draft [law] aims to protect the secrets of police, military and some other government institutions that are related to national security.”

Tito said that the law would not be used to silence journalists as he believed the media are already able to recognise information that should not be published for national security reasons.

“The leaking of secret information of the police, military and government mainly related to national security issues, such as espionage, would be [illegal] under this draft,” he said.

More than 100 government officials are being sent to Vietnam to learn about encryption and forgery methods as part of the new measures.

Tito said that Vietnam’s help was required due to a lack of expertise in the Kingdom.

He added that just because Cambodia is learning from Vietnam, it “doesn’t mean we work for them”.

Despite Tito’s assurances, Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said questions remained as to why the law was being drafted at the same time as the long-awaited access-to-information law.

“The access-to-information law should be drafted before moving on to another similar law,” he said.

Chhean Nariddh said he understood the need for a law protecting classified information but said it was important that it was drafted in accordance with international standards on press freedom and freedom of information.

“Because a law with ambiguous provisions can be easily interpreted to punish anybody who intends to criticise the government,” he said.

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