A draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is set for a debate at the National Assembly (NA) after going through the Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee meeting led by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.
Consisting of five chapters and 11 articles, the draft law stipulates a maximum 10-year imprisonment for anyone caught breaking it.
The bill, seen by The Post on Wednesday, sets out formalities, procedures and terms for a declaration of a state of emergency if the country runs into danger.
It aims to maintain national security and public order, lives and health of the people, properties and the environment.
Article 3 of the draft law states that a state of emergency can last indefinitely or for a limited period of time.
But a Council of Ministers notice posted on Hun Sen’s Facebook page said a state of emergency cannot last more than three months, though it can be prolonged for another three months under the same conditions.
Article 5 stipulates that certain measures would be taken in a state of emergency including restrictions on the people’s rights, freedom of movement, gatherings, jobs and occupations.
It allows the state to impose confinement, quarantine, conscription and evacuation. The state can also manage, seize and handle properties when necessary to respond to an emergency.
The article stipulates that the state can set prices on necessities and services, shut down public or private venues, conduct surveillance and monitoring by all means to receive information through telecommunication systems, prohibit dissemination or publication of information that may cause fear or social chaos.
“When necessary, the government can set up mechanisms or delegate authority or use the armed forces to ensure that the above-mentioned measures are implemented.
“In case of war or other circumstances such as when national security faces serious threats, the country shall be governed under military rules,” states the article.
Article 7 dictates that obstruction of the law’s implementation shall be punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years and a fine of up to five million riel ($1,230).
An obstruction that causes public chaos or harms national security is subject to five to 10 years imprisonment. Anyone found to disregard measures introduced in a state of emergency shall be sentenced to between one and five years in prison and a fine of up to five million riel.
Legal entities that violate the law are subject to punishment and a fine of up to 500 million riel.
The law also covers law enforcement officials. Article 10 states that authorities found to abuse power arbitrarily and cause harm to individuals or the properties of others shall be held accountable.
The Council of Ministers notice said: “After the [bill’s] content, wording and spellings were revised, the Standing Committee has agreed to submit the draft law to the legislative body for approval without going through the Council of Ministers plenary meeting.
“Newly-appointed Minister of Justice Koeut Rith is assigned to present the draft law to the legislative body.”
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the draft law was leaked. He said in general, a bill has to go through the Council of Ministers. But because the bill was approved by the Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee, it was completely legal to bypass the Council.
He said the law is in the national interest and common in both democratic and non-democratic countries.
“So, there is nothing to worry about if we implement measures introduced by the government for our safety and national interests,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Aside from the draft law, the government has also set out some priorities in times of difficulty due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
They include the promotion of the agricultural sector, stockpiling of strategic goods such as milled rice and salt, and the preparation of face masks, sanitisers and protective gear for health workers.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), claimed that the drafting of the law has been hasty and lacked proper consultation with key stakeholders or civil society organisations.
She said its impact on human rights has not been sufficiently considered.
“The leaked draft law prescribes broad, vaguely–worded and unfettered powers to the government during a state of emergency that undermines a range of fundamental rights, including freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and information, freedom of movement, as well as land and property rights,” she said.