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Interior Ministry mulling investigations into NGOs' "neutrality"

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, seen speaking at an event last year, has accused several NGOs of violating their legally mandated "neutrality".
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, seen speaking at an event last year, has accused several NGOs of violating their legally mandated "neutrality". Heng Chivoan

Interior Ministry mulling investigations into NGOs' "neutrality"

Human rights NGOs Licadho and Adhoc were among a group of organisations who were warned by the Ministry of Interior today that they are being scrutinised for allegedly violating their neutrality by supporting the opposition CNRP.

News of the inquiry was first disclosed by government-aligned media outlet Fresh News, which reported that a “senior security official” informed the outlet that the government was investigating multiple NGOs.

“We are already investigating a group of civil society organisations … we will carry out the law seriously, in accordance with the NGO law and the electoral law,” the anonymous source is quoted in the article.

Ministry of Interior (MOI) spokesman Khieu Sopheak stopped short of labelling the probe an “investigation”, but confirmed that several NGOs were currently being monitored while the ministry considers opening formal investigations, singling out Licadho, Adhoc and the election watchdog Comfrel.

“We appeal to all NGOs – Licadho, Adhoc – please adhere to neutrality … In the case the Ministry finds out that these NGOs are supporting any political party, the ministry will take legal action,” he said.

Sopheak also mentioned Comfrel’s 2013 report calling into question the indelibility of ink used to mark voters and prevent fraud, saying the organisation was “part of the opposition”.

“This is a warning,” he said.

Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said she was unaware of any investigation into her NGO

“No one from MOI has contacted any staff or come to any of our 14 offices,” she said.

Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, spoke out against the laws being invoked by the Ministry.

"Both the Law on Commune Council Elections and the heavily-criticised Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations contain broad, vaguely drafted requirements of ‘neutrality’ for NGOs, that are ripe for abuse and threaten to severely restrict their freedom of expression,” she said via email.

A previous version of this article stated that a formal letter would be distributed to the rights organisations. This was incorrect. The Post apologises for the error.

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