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Critics decry demonstration law

Critics decry demonstration law

090618_05c.jpg
090618_05c.jpg

The draft legislation, which could be approved next week, will limit freedom of expression, they say

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HENG CHIVOAN

Police question protestors from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak community at a demonstration last year.

A DRAFT law regulating peaceful demonstrations that opposition lawmakers and civil society groups say will infringe on people's freedom of expression could be adopted as early as next week, according to Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay.

The draft law would require demonstrations to take place between 6am and 6pm, and to be held in a designated zone or so-called "freedom park" if they have over 200 participants.

In addition, the law would make the organisers of demonstrations responsible for any damage of violence done by participants, Son Chhay said.

The president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Ou Virak, added that the draft law goes against the spirit of the Cambodia's Constitution and will heighten political repression and control.

"That version of the new law on demonstrations will allow the government to take legal action to control every demonstration and restrict the freedom of expression in order to keep the hot issue of land grabbing silent," he said.

"If people have the freedom to express their opinion about land grabbing it will bring trouble to the government," he added.

Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, which was prevented from staging a demonstration during the visit of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said that new law would move Cambodia closer to a single-party dictatorship.

"If the draft law is not revised, we will lose our freedom of expression," he said.

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the government has never restricted freedom of expression so long as it does not affect national security, safety and public order.

"Freedom of expression is not as wonderful as in the United States, but it is acceptable for this society," he said. "Broadcast and print media, and public forums can exercise their freedom of expression - demonstrations, too. The organisers just need permission."

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