Only one minor change was made to the draft Law on Access to Information yesterday, meeting approval from free press advocates for addressing one of their concerns, but also drawing frustration at the slow progress of the law.
The previous draft of the law stated that officials can deny information if the “applicant intends to disturb the operation of public institutions”, wording that had struck critics as deliberately vague, and as having the potential to be used to thwart even reasonable requests.
A new version of the law will replace “disturb” with “obstruct”, a change proposed by Wan-Hea Lee, the UN human rights office’s representative in Cambodia. “There was a great deal of discussion about ways in which obstruction can take place … about how access to information contained in fragile documents would be ensured,” she said in an interview yesterday.
Phan Phorp Barmey, senior program manager at the Advocacy and Policy Institute, said he approved of the change. “The focus is on information that provokes violence,” he said, noting the new phrasing would make it harder to withhold information. Barmey, however, also expressed displeasure with the length of the process – the law was first proposed in 2006.
He added that the definitions of confidentiality and “public order” in the law are still “too broad”. Other advocates have expressed concern that the law is purposefully vague on those points to allow the government to easily prosecute journalists.
When asked who will determine whether information is obstructionist, Ministry of Information spokesman Ouk Kimseng said “we have not reached that kind of decision yet”. Kimseng said the draft should be finalised by mid-2017.