An annual reporting requirement under the contentious Law on Associations and NGOs, or LANGO, is being intentionally misinterpreted by local police, according to a group of NGOs in Oddar Meanchey province.
At least 15 NGOs and associations have snubbed a request from provincial police to file weekly “activity reports” about their work, pointing out that the 2015 NGO Law only requires annual reporting.
Chhay Chhon, head of internal security for the provincial police, began pushing for the reports over the past month, the group said.
On Monday, the 15 organisations held a meeting in Samroang district to discuss the issue, said Rith Bo, director of the Children’s Development Association.
“The police said they need our daily planning in order to keep public order and social security,” he said. “We have never heard of this before.”
He added police claimed to have the right to know details of NGOs’ activities and that police in other provinces were going to make similar demands.
Bo, who said the NGOs had rejected the police request, said he was unaware of any such requests being made in other provinces. Attempts to reach spokesmen for the National Police and Interior Ministry were unsuccessful yesterday.
LANGO, passed last year and considered by civil society to be restrictive in nature, states that NGOs must send annual activity and financial reports to the relevant ministries.
Chhon defended his request yesterday, saying that submitting a weekly report was not restrictive in any way and if NGOs choose not to do so, they wouldn’t face any action.
“It is no problem. It’s not a case involving any restrictions because we are just asking for their cooperation,” he said, refusing to comment further.
Heng Kimnoeum, chief of an NGO network in the province and program manager at Cambodian Health and Human Rights Alliance, said he was sceptical about the rationale behind the request.
“If they take our schedule to help providing safety for our missions in rural areas, then it’s a good cause,” he said. “But if they take it just to monitor our activities, it’s a restriction of our freedom and work.”
According to Kimnoeum, 44 NGOs are registered in the province, with only 34 active.
While NGOs attending the meeting had rejected the police’s request, Kimnouem said a compromise had been suggested – to submit quarterly timelines of activities, instead of detailed weekly reports – a suggestion the police had yet to deliberate on.
Penn Bonn, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, expressed concern that turning over details of the group’s activities and movements risked putting ongoing investigations, often launched at the behest of aggrieved villagers, at risk.
“It is unacceptable. Investigations need to be kept secret while in progress,” he said, adding it was the first time he had heard of a request for activity reports being made in any province.
Chak Sopheap, executive director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the request was “baseless” under LANGO, saying the annual filing requirement was burdensome as it is.
“Not only does this request lack a legal basis, but to request such arduous reporting is a clear attempt by the authorities to keep a watchful eye over NGOs in an attempt to monitor and even further curtail their activities,” she added.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga