Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ministry ups scrutiny of NGOs

Ministry ups scrutiny of NGOs

Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a forum last week at the ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a forum last week at the ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Ministry ups scrutiny of NGOs

The Interior Ministry has instructed provincial officials to urgently report any instances in which activities are carried out by any NGOs or grassroots associations without prior notification, adding that authorities can stop any planned events if they affect “public order and national security”.

The letter, which was dispatched countrywide on October 2, coincides with an intensified government crackdown on nongovernmental organisations.

“Associations and NGOs wishing to conduct activities in the territory of a specific city or province have to inform the Ministry of Interior about the nature of activity or directly inform the administration . . . within three days before the activity starts,” the letter reads.

Under the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations, groups are required to inform authorities of public gatherings, but are not required to get permission beforehand. The law also forbids officials from blocking gatherings under anything but extreme circumstances – though protests and even private meetings with NGOs are often shut down for lacking permission to gather.

The Law on Associations and NGOs (Lango) also does require NGOs to report their day to day activities.

Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, said the new directive would embolden officials to impinge on the right of communities to organise local-level activities, adding that the conduct of even workshops and trainings would be at the behest of local authorities.

“This will only give the [local] authorities pretext to shutdown or suspend workshops [organised] for the local communities,” he said.

Pol Lim, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, dismissed any questions raised over the directive. “They [NGOs] just say like that, but the law does not do that,” he said.

The directive fits a pattern of increasing attention paid by the government to NGOs. In recent months, election monitor Comfrel and rights groups Licadho and Adhoc have been pulled up over alleged tax compliance issues.

The NGO Equitable Cambodia was the first major group to fall afoul of the controversial Lango, when it was suspended for one month in late September over assistance to villagers in land disputes with sugar producing firms.

Additionally, environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia asked to be removed from the NGO registry after repeated legal harassment of its activists and alleged threats to its founder. The group now plans to continue as a citizens’ movement.

Cambodian Youth Network Deputy President Sar Mory expressed concern about the sweeping nature of the instructions. “The meaning of the letter is too vague. It will be easy for provincial, district or commune authorities to ban or stop any activities of NGOs or local communities,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,