A student group was suspended by the Ministry of Interior yesterday for a series of violations of the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (Lango), including the highly controversial Article 24, which requires organisations to remain “politically neutral”.
The suspension of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students comes less than a week since the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summonsed group leader Leng Seng Hong for questioning after he called for peaceful protests in the event of the CNRP’s dissolution.
“The Ministry of Interior decided to temporarily suspend the activities of Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students for 60 days starting from today,” a ministry statement released yesterday says.
The statement orders the group to rectify its mistakes, submit proper paperwork and return to neutrality, or face legal action and possible dissolution.
At the time Lango was passed, leading local rights groups, including Adhoc, Licadho and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), said Article 24, among others, was “unconstitutional”. All three groups recommended removing the article, with CCHR claiming it is “contrary to the right to freedom of expression”.
According to Licadho documents, sent to a reporter by Deputy Director of Advocacy Naly Pilorge, this is the first time an NGO has been targeted for violation of Article 24.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to answer questions about the case.
When asked if Article 24 had been invoked before, he said “your newspaper should have more documents than me”.
Seng Hong himself has been summonsed to answer questions related to “incitement to commit a crime”, despite advocating specifically for peaceful protests, a right guaranteed under Cambodian law. Seng Hong could not be reached yesterday.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called the move “rights violating” and “totally absolutely unacceptable”.
Speaking via email yesterday, Robertson said Lango is a “politically driven battle axe against civil society” and repeated calls for donor countries to take concrete action against the Cambodian government.
Cambodian analyst Lao Mong Hay said the violation of neutrality was only an issue because Seng Hong spoke out against the government.
“For those opposed to the government’s policies, if anyone uses their legs, they will cut off their legs. If they use their hands, they will cut off their hands,” he said.