Government Spokesperson Unit chief Pen Bona recently highlighted the extensive political rights and freedom of expression in Cambodia, though he acknowledged issues related to “responsibility”. 

Bona was speaking at a “Freedom of Expression and Responsibility” roundtable in Phnom Penh on December 7.

Bona pointed out the active participation of numerous political parties in elections, accompanied by nearly 6,000 NGOs and a multitude of media outlets disseminating information. He noted “complete freedom” across all social media platforms.

He also reiterated the freedom to travel, though concerns persist regarding the exercise of rights within the legal framework outlined in Article 41 of the Constitution. 

“Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly. But no one shall exercise this right to infringe upon the rights of others, to affect the good traditions of the society, to violate public law and order and national security,” Article 41 of the Cambodian Constitution states.

He said that previously, some civil society organisations raised this point, with a smaller number acknowledging the responsibility to maintain public order.

“I encourage everyone to study Article 41 of the Constitution. We will implement it appropriately to ensure the exercise of our rights and freedoms within the legal framework, promoting the right to freedom of expression in Cambodia,” Bona said.

Local rights group ADHOC spokesperson Soeung Sen Karuna said the diverse responsibilities linked to freedom of expression are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also in the Cambodian Constitution. 

He claimed, however, that expressing negative opinions about officials historically led to government action against individuals.

“Criticism and expression of ideas deviate from the principles of freedom of expression when the case is untrue, incorrect, unclear or causes trouble. In certain instances, criticism aims at the development of inactive officials, yet the critic faces threats or accusations,” he said.

Pa Ponnarada, spokesperson for the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), highlighted that peaceful protests, in collaboration with authorities and adhering to safety laws, constitute a constitutional exercise of rights. However, gatherings expressing ideas without authority cooperation, disrupting public order and causing violence is a violation of the law.