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Government probing ‘Situation Room’

Speakers discuss the commune elections at a press conference held in the ‘Situation Room’ earlier this month in Phnom Penh.
Speakers discuss the commune elections at a press conference held in the ‘Situation Room’ earlier this month in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Government probing ‘Situation Room’

Ministry of Interior (MoI) officials confirmed yesterday that the coalition of NGOs dubbed the “Situation Room” is under investigation for not properly registering with the ministry prior to its election monitoring activities during the recently concluded commune election cycle.

The ministry first hinted at the possibility of an investigation just before the June 4 election, with Prime Minister Hun Sen directly ordering that it go forward during a speech on Wednesday.

“I’m waiting for the report,” said ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, explaining that Secretary of State Pol Lim was currently putting the report together.

“I have no idea,” Sopheak said when asked if any of the organisations within the Situation Room were not properly registered.

Lim said he could not yet speak about the results of the investigation.

“We cannot release it yet as we are checking it now,” he said.

Both Lim and Sopheak said they did not know when the report would be made public.

The organisations that make up the Situation Room have protested the very notion of an investigation, claiming they are not one group, but rather a forum for sharing ideas.

The coalition is made up of election monitor groups like Comfrel and Nicfec, as well as prominent human rights groups like Licadho, Adhoc and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

“It is not a formal organisation but rather a collaborative effort and the result of ongoing dialogue and cooperation of about 40 Cambodian associations and civil society organisations” read a joint statement from Comfrel and Nicfec released on Wednesday.

Sam Kuntheamy, president of Nicfec, said his organisation has not yet been contacted, and insisted that all coalition members were properly registered.

“We formed a group for a short period, just before the election, so we did not need to register,” Kuntheamy said.

Naly Pilorge, deputy director of policy at Licadho, also said her group has not been contacted by officials, but is under surveillance.

“We are not even sure what or who MoI intends to investigate but we are ready to meet MoI or any other ministry to clarify,” she said.

“We have noticed surveillance stationed close to our Phnom Penh office and surveillance at the office of another key member of the Situation Room,” Naly added, saying this is a “common tactic used over the years to intimidate and monitor CSOs”.

CCHR President Chak Sopheap said the pressure on civil society is likely an attempt to curb effective monitoring of next year’s national election.

“There is no requirement for such informal networks to be registered . . . The right to freedom of association, guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution and international law, encompasses the right of organisations to come together for a shared, peaceful purpose,” she added.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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