Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN concerned over political crackdown



UN concerned over political crackdown

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Rhona Smith, the UN’s independent Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Heng Chivoan

UN concerned over political crackdown

UN human rights experts have expressed concern about what they call an escalating trend of silencing political opinion, saying the government has used criminal law to deny former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members’ the rights to expression and to hold gatherings.

However, senior government officials say the comments fail to take into account the Kingdom’s legal mechanisms.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, Rhona Smith, the UN’s independent Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and David Kaye, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, raised their concerns over an escalating trend by the government to suppress dissenting opinions in what they said appears to be an attempt to intimidate or silence political opinion.

The special rapporteurs said they had received information that more than 140 members of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP have been summoned or detained by authorities in relation to their attendance at gatherings and over comments made in support of CNRP president Kem Sokha and “acting president” Sam Rainsy.

“We are concerned about the use of criminal law to target free speech, both offline and online. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression."

“This right is one of the essential foundations of a democratic and just society. Restrictions on freedom of expression must be limited and strictly defined, and statements of support for political leaders do not fall within such permitted limitations,” Smith and Kaye’s press release said.

The pair said restrictions must be based on law and supported by legitimate grounds, such as protecting public order or national security.

They said the summonses issued to many of the former CNRP members related to alleged violations of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the dissolution of the party on November 16, 2017, without specifying the nature of the alleged violations.

Defence lawyers were not allowed to make copies of any of the case files, they said, in order to prepare an adequate defence.

Smith and Kaye said Cambodia has undeniably become a one-party state ruled by the Cambodian People’s Party after the main opposition party, and the only one in the National Assembly, was dissolved.

They called on the government to reverse the current downward trend in the enjoyment of political rights and fundamental freedoms.

“It is time for the government to lead a change of the political culture to one of dialogue – with a focus on issues rather than people – as a way to move ahead and to create a solid basis for durable peace, sustainable development and the enjoyment of all human rights,” they said.

But Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin responded by saying their comments only took into account the freedoms of the CNRP members and did not consider the country’s legal mechanisms.

Malin said supporting the former CNRP officials’ gatherings amounted to supporting an illegal movement and convicted men.

“According to Cambodia’s legal principles, all forms of activity, not only on Facebook but gatherings of any form, with ill intentions in support of an illegal movement or anyone who has been convicted, is against the law and the authorities must take legal action,” Malin said.

Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna said Cambodia has ratified conventions recognising many international laws and human rights, including political rights, which allow citizens to participate in politics.

He claimed that although their party had been dissolved, CNRP members’ rights had not been dissolved.

“Their rights still exist to participate in political activity. So they can act in accordance with the law and rights recognised by the Cambodian government ever since we adopted a multi-party liberal democracy and recognised human rights in the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements,” Sen Karuna said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said activities related to the CNRP are illegal because any party dissolved by the court is no longer a political party.

“There are a lot of opposition parties who are members of the Supreme Consultation Forum. Members of the party that was dissolved by the court cannot carry out activities for five years,” he said.

Siphan said the two special rapporteurs should remember that Prime Minister Hun Sen had provided an opportunity for former CNRP members to request political rehabilitation.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and