Long-awaited legislation to protect whistleblowers and witnesses will include “clear mechanisms” for authorities to ensure the safety of those who assist in the government’s anti-corruption investigations, officials said on Wednesday.
“The corrupt ones are the people in power and the rich people. Even when they are imprisoned, they can order someone to kill the whistleblowers. It is no different to when drug traffickers sell drugs from prison,” said Anti-Corruption Unit Chairman Om Yentieng.
Mr. Yentieng was addressing lawmakers, court officials and NGO representatives at the start of a two-day workshop in Phnom Penh to discuss a pair of planned laws—one to protect witnesses, another to protect whistleblowers—that the ACU hopes to have drafted by year’s end.
“The first draft law, on witness protection, is being created to improve the effectiveness of justice and crime prevention, [and] to ensure the security and personal safety of witnesses and relevant parties,” he said. “Witnesses are necessary people. When there are no witnesses, sometimes the courts cannot find justice…. A suspect could lie to the court, saying they did not commit corruption, but witnesses cannot lie.”
Mr. Yentieng refused to speak to reporters during on Wednesday’s event. In October, he announced that the ACU was already drafting a single law to protect both witnesses and whistleblowers, and it is unclear why the plan changed.
At the time, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay noted that Article 41 of the country’s Anti-Corruption Law states that individuals who file complaints deemed to be defamatory, or which lead to a “useless inquiry,” may face imprisonment.
Mr. Chhay said any new legislation would be ineffective unless changes were made to the ACU’s leadership, noting Mr. Yentieng’s involvement in a regime long derided for systemic corruption.
“Om Yentieng must go, in simple words,” he said.