The Cambodian Bar Association on Wednesday responded to Human Rights Watch (HRW) over what it called an “utterly groundless” statement that claimed the legal body was beholden to the ruing party and was attempting to muzzle lawyers ahead of the July 28 national elections.
In its statement, which was issued on Tuesday, HRW claimed the Bar Association had been “under de facto CPP control since 2004,” when the ruling party is alleged to have engineered the election of its president. HRW also said Bar Association president Bun Honn was “strongly backed” by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
The Bar Association responded through a statement to its website that said the body was an “independent institution.”
“The Bar Association is not under the line of any political inclination or the influence of any institution, religion or organization,” the statement says.
“The allegation that the Bar Association is under the ambit of a political party or the government is completely nonsense and outrageous, which degrades the image of the Bar Association and the profession of all lawyers in Cambodian society as a whole.”
The HRW statement followed an announcement by the Bar Association on February 8 saying that lawyers would have to seek its permission before speaking to television and radio media.
Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, said: “When a professional association starts arguing that its members deserve to have less rights to freedom of expression than the average Khmer citizen, it’s clear that something is profoundly wrong.
“Sadly, the Bar Association cannot run from its political controllers nor evidently can it give a straight answer on why it’s issued a gag rule for all lawyers in Cambodia and insisted that the government be its enforcer to manipulate,” Mr. Robertson added.