A government spokesman said civil society organisations (CSOs) don’t seem to understand the purpose and content of the state of emergency law.

The remarks were made by Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin after CSOs repeatedly requested that the government amend the law as they worried that it threatened human rights.

A joint statement released by 66 CSOs and communities on Wednesday called on the government to undertake immediate and meaningful consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure compliance with Cambodia’s human rights obligations.

“While we acknowledge that the government has stated that its goal in drafting this law is to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic, we, the undersigned CSOs and communities are very concerned that this law grants the government excessive powers to restrict fundamental freedoms and therefore poses a serious threat to human rights,” the statement read.

It said the state of emergency law had been hastily passed and without sufficient consultation with relevant stakeholders.

“Cambodia’s introduction of a state of emergency law was in line with Article 22 of the Constitution and Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“However, in its current form, the state of emergency law presents an alarming risk. Some Articles such as 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 were required to be amended and revisited,” the statement read.

But Malin told The Post on Thursday that the CSOs requested changes because they didn’t seem to understand the true content and purpose of the law.

He said Article 5 mentions the restrictions of rights and freedoms but is no different from that of other countries and international laws and treaties that also allow for rights and freedoms to be curtailed during a state of emergency.

“The measures that the government imposed under Article 5 are not measures allowing the government to do something arbitrary and without limits.

“Its conditions are clear and law enforcement officials have mechanisms to monitor, control and take responsibility when [the people] commit acts contrary to the content and purpose of this law.

“The remarks were made [because] it is the request and concern of the civil society organisations. We don’t know how to consider it in the amendments because all the comments are not compatible with the content and the purpose of our law,” Malin stressed.

However, the CSOs claim that Article 5 had to be amended to include strictly defined limitations and conditions to the powers granted to mandate respect for human rights.

They said the government has to revisit the ambiguous wording in Articles 7, 8 and 9 to ensure they uphold the principles of law and protect against the manipulation of civil rights, a free media and dissenting voices.

The CSOs request a revisit after they observed that while Cambodia experienced the Covid-19 problem, the government and police arrested 40 people and accused them of sharing fake news on the virus.

Among them, VFB online journalist Sovann Rithy was also arrested and had his licence revoked.