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Bad year for freedom, NGOs report

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Kem Sokha sits with his mother while under court-supervised bail at his residence in Phnom Penh on September 11. A joint report released by three NGOs found that government critics like Sokha have been ‘surpressed with increasing frequency and severity’. AFP

Bad year for freedom, NGOs report

Fundamental freedoms are under threat in Cambodia, and government critics are “suppressed with increasing frequency and severity,” a report by three non-governmental organisations claimed.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc), and the Solidarity Center (SC) on Wednesday released an annual report called the Fundamental Freedoms Monitoring Project (FFMP).

The report, as described by the rights groups, “provides a comprehensive overview of the exercise of freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in the Kingdom of Cambodia”.

In research conducted between April last year and March, the report found a notable increase in the number of restrictions of fundamental freedoms, a jump from 391 incidents to 593 since to the last report.

‘Arbitrary application of laws’

During the monitoring period, the groups said the FFMP recorded 163 incidents, polled 996 members of the public from 21 provinces, spoke to 169 security officials and trade union leaders, and analysed 672 relevant incidents via media monitoring.

The report said: “Year Two of the FFMP showed a shift in the state of fundamental freedoms in Cambodia, due to (a) several significant legislative amendments, (b) the systematic and arbitrary application of laws governing fundamental freedoms, and (c) a decrease in the public’s ability to exercise fundamental freedoms.”

The FFMP was scathing at times: “Voices deemed critical of government officials and policies were suppressed with increasing frequency and severity, at the national and local levels.”

The report said freedom of association was curtailed by changes to the legal system, an increase in surveillance, and a surge in sanctions against political parties and civil society organisations.

‘Duty to protect public order’

“Freedom of expression also came under sustained pressure in Year Two, with new legal restrictions on speech, increased self-censorship, and the sanctioning and closure of many independent media outlets,” the report claimed.

The FFMP also recorded 26 assemblies that were prohibited, notably during the time leading up to the dissolution of the Cambodian National Rescue Party.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the report should be taken in context.

“These NGOs received financial support from outside. They produced a report saying Cambodia is bad, showing negative points.

“Cambodia is not that bad. Everything is under the law, not arbitrary. The government has a duty to protect public order in society, and now the government has the duty to keep national unity,” Siphan said.

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