Justice Minister Koeut Rith told Australian ambassador Pablo Kang that any arrests carried out by Cambodian authorities were in line with Cambodian laws.
Rith said this in response to concerns voiced by Kang at a Tuesday meeting.
Fourteen people have been arrested since July and charged with incitement for their comments about Cambodia-Vietnam border demarcation. Those arrested included union leader Rong Chhun and the president of the Khmer Win Party, Soung Sophorn, along with supporters who protested for their release.
A day after the meeting, Kang tweeted: “I caught up with Justice Minister Koeut Rith yesterday. I raised at length our concerns over the recent spate of arrests of activists.”
Rith told Kang the rights and freedoms of an individual must be exercised within the framework of the law. Those who enjoy those rights beyond the line and affect other people have to be held accountable before the law.
“Laws in each country are not the same due to the social context and the country’s history. In a historical context, border issues are controversial in Cambodia. Incitement and falsifying information about borders has already put Cambodia in wars and instability for three decades,” Rith told Kang.
In Cambodia, he said, it is illegal to falsify the truth about border issues to cause social chaos and destroy peace and stability. He said that is not an exercise of freedom of expression.
“Cambodia adheres to the rule of law. Therefore, Cambodia has to enforce its law against any wrong-doing to ensure social security and public order.
“This is done for the sake of the public. In a democratic country, any individual who is arrested has full rights to defend themselves or have lawyers to defend them in court,” Rith said.
Referring to protests demanding the release of Chhun, the minister said such an action was regarded as putting pressure on a legal enforcement institution. Such action was illegal and against the principle of the rule of law, he said.
The Ministry of Justice website said Rith and Kang also talked about Australian support to Cambodia. Rith thanked the Australian government for its contribution to Cambodia in many sectors, including in health and agriculture.
Australia has also assisted Cambodia in the development of legal documents, including a law on mutual assistance in criminal affairs.
Kang lauded good cooperation between the two nations, especially in the fights against money laundering, child exploitation, and transnational crimes. And he applauded the ministry’s effort in solving congestion at all courts of first instance.
An Australian Embassy spokesperson told The Post on Wednesday that Kang raised his ongoing discussions with Cambodian ministers, including Rith, on legal and human rights issues.
“Rith and Kang had an extensive discussion which covered a range of issues, including recent arrests. It would not be appropriate to reveal the details of these discussions.
“Kang congratulated Cambodia on the historic passing of new laws to combat proliferation financing and facilitate mutual legal assistance.
“Australia, through our Department of Home Affairs and the Attorney-General’s Department, was pleased to provide drafting support for these laws,” the spokesperson said.
The embassy said Australia stood ready to support Cambodia to implement these laws, including assisting the Ministry of Justice to deliver a workshop next month to train officials on Cambodia’s new mutual legal assistance laws.
Australia will provide technical assistance to support the Ministry of Justice in preparing relevant sub-decrees under the counter-proliferation financing law, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the country will also support the Ministry of Interior to prepare guidance materials to promote consistent application of the counter-proliferation financing law, once relevant sub-decrees have been issued.