The National Election Committee yesterday warned political parties that use of derogatory racial or religious rhetoric while campaigning for July’s election could result in criminal prosecution.
Political parties must refrain from such discriminatory language while campaigning because it causes rancor and violence, NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha told the Post. All political parties needed to respect the principles of Cambodia’s election laws, he said.
“For example, [saying], ‘Oh, this is the party yuon stands for, voting for this party is the same as voting for yuon, and yuon will come into Cambodia,’ this is prohibited,” Nytha said, referring to a Khmer term for Vietnamese some believe to be a racial slur.
Nytha added that violators could face charges in accordance with Cambodia’s election laws.
Racism and discrimination against religious groups have no place in a democracy, said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“I think there’s a legitimate concern with racism . . . I think all parties should avoid using [racism],” Virak said yesterday.
But, he added, he was not aware of any law that prohibited the use of racist language and did not believe it should result in criminal prosecution.
No laws in the electoral campaign section of the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly specifically prohibit using racial epithets while campaigning. But Article 76 of the code dictates that candidates “shall avoid using violence, abuse, or contemptuous language.”
Nytha’s warning comes amid a controversy surrounding opposition lawmaker Kem Sokha, who allegedly said the infamous Tuol Sleng Khmer Rouge torture centre never existed, but rather was a fabrication created by the Vietnamese.
At a press conference last week, Sokha, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, vehemently denied making the statements. The comments were first heard in an audio clip distributed by the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit’s website on May 20. Sokha and other CNRP members have said the audio clip was manipulated.
Days after the clip surfaced, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for a law criminalising denial of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Assembly members submitted draft legislation on Friday.
Although racist rhetoric should not appear in a political campaign, Virak said, the NEC enforcing such a rule could present problems. “There’s legitimate reason for it, but I could see how it could be misused,” he said.
Responding to Nytha’s warning about racist campaign tactics, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition party has not promoted racism since its founding.
“From the beginning, we have campaigned according to our proper political platform,” Sovann said.