Bar Association Hits Back at Rights Group Over Lawyer Rule

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.

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