Interior Ministry: NGOs Under Watch for Supporting CNRP

Several civil society organizations and their employees, including the leaders of the human rights NGOs Licadho and Adhoc, are under watch by the Interior Ministry for allegedly aiding the CNRP and will face legal action after Sunday’s commune election if the allegations prove true, a ministry spokesman said today, a charge denied by Licadho’s executive director.

“We have not yet put any NGOs or civil society organizations on the blacklist but we will take action if we find those organizations are working to serve the opposition party,” ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said this morning, referring to a list the government uses to initiate formal investigations.

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Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, left, gestures during a press conference at the ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh to announce the preliminary results of a probe into the veracity of the thumbprints on a CNRP petition. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We will not take action in this time because the activities of those organizations are not so serious,” he said. “But we will take action immediately if the activities of those people affect the national interest.”

Though General Sopheak did not name the organizations in question, he said they included Adhoc and Licadho.

“Those two organizations are under investigation because most of their activities are working to serve the opposition party,” he said. “I wish to state that the two organizations are good, but individuals and leaders in the organizations are working to serve the opposition party.”

Licadho’s deputy advocacy director Naly Pilorge said she was unaware of any investigation against the organization and denied supporting the opposition.

“As a human rights NGO, pre & post election work has been and still is a normal part of our work,” she wrote in a message. “Our work is to provide services to victims of human rights violations including land grabbing, trafficking, gender based violence, labor etc… including cases that are of civil & political nature.”

Gen. Sopheak said the action was prompted by criticism from civil society organizations over the ink used in the upcoming elections. The National Election Committee admitted it purchased the ink even though samples could be erased using a hair care product, drawing concern from election monitors over potential double-voting.

The spokesman said the NGOs were working at the behest of foreign donors to support the opposition.

“We are now watching [to see] which NGOs and civil society organizations are working to serve the opposition party and we will take action after the commune election,” he said, declining to name the actions but saying they would draw from the recently-passed Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO).

NGOs in Cambodia have been treading more carefully since the passage last year of LANGO, which critics said gave the government sweeping powers to revoke the registration of organizations found to have threatened political stability or be operating with a political bias.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, released an 11-page screed in April, “To Tell the Truth,” accusing foreign diplomats, media, and NGOs of colluding with Western governments to destabilize the country and support the opposition.

Representatives from Adhoc as well as two election watchdogs — the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia — could not immediately be reached for comment, while Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, declined to comment.

Adhoc director Thun Saray fled to Canada last fall amid a court case that saw four of his employees jailed for bribery charges widely seen as politically motivated, which Gen. Sopheak said proved his guilt.

Eang Vuthy, head of the housing and development NGO Equitable Cambodia, said he was unaware of the ministry’s investigation, but that the organization was operating neutrally.

“We just follow our mandate,” he said. “We are not affiliated to any political party.”

An article from government mouthpiece Fresh News, which broke the story, said that the NGOs targeted were located in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, but Gen. Sopheak said that he had not read the article and declined to comment on its accuracy.

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