Cambodia's leading human rights groups have condemned the ruling and opposition parties’ reported efforts to stymie their voices during election campaigns, arguing such restrictions would violate freedom of expression.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party have been negotiating changes to the Election Law in line with a July agreement to overhaul the electoral system.
One provision they have discussed would seek to ban NGOs from making statements deemed “insulting” to political parties or even giving media interviews in a bid to preserve their political neutrality.
The groups that signed yesterday’s statement, which include Licadho, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Adhoc, said they were seriously concerned about the introduction of such measures, which they claimed would violate the constitution and international treaties Cambodia has signed.
“The introduction of such measures would only serve to stifle public debate, impair citizens’ constitutional right to participate actively in the political life of the nation, and undermine civil society’s legitimate role in holding public authorities to account,” they said.
“Whilst the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, restrictions can only be introduced where absolutely necessary to serve a legitimate aim, whereas a ban on giving media interviews appears intended to shield the government and members of political parties from criticism.”
They added that vaguely worded provisions that would penalise comments deemed insulting “would leave considerable room for broad interpretation by the authorities to justify crackdowns on dissenting voices”.
Neither Bin Chhin nor Kuoy Bunroeun, who respectively head the CPP and CNRP’s election reform negotiating teams, could be reached yesterday.
But after a meeting on Monday, Chhin told reporters that rather than an all-out media ban, the parties wanted to ensure that NGOs would not make comments or statements during the election campaign, voting and vote count that are “not neutral”.
“They can analyse, but we will not let them insult. Our plan with the law is to write [an article] that will not let them insult,” he said.
On Monday Bunroeun said that the CNRP had not yet agreed with the CPP’s proposal but admitted his party was hoping to compromise on an article that would ensure NGOs remain “professional and responsible”.