Democracy Shrinking in Cambodia, NGOs Say

As they marked International Day of Democracy with a press conference in Phnom Penh yesterday, civil society organizations claimed the democratic space in Cambodia was continually getting smaller.

A day after a number of NGOs released a report critical of the level of freedom of expression in Cambodia, civil society groups carried on the theme by providing harsh analysis of the state of democracy.

Thun Saray, president of human rights group Adhoc, said people were no longer willing to express their ideas publicly, for fear of persecution at the hands of the authorities. “Trouble is made for…groups such as journalists or [opposition] politicians, by using the court system to sue them,” he said. “Freedom of expression without fear is very important in a democratic country.”

Mr Saray added that the “majority group” needed to be more tolerant of the “smaller groups” in Cambodia, in apparent reference to the political dominance of the CPP over the opposition and civil society.

Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that a more independent judiciary, that did not favor any individuals or groups, was needed to protect the pillars of democracy.

“If we look at the court, we can see that the court is moving backwards…. I have noticed that the judges are more afraid,” he said. “In the next five years, the government should reform the court system.”

Mr Sam Oeun added that any expansion of the democratic space in Cambodia would be dependent on the level of freedom provided to specific independent groups, including the media and civil society. “If there are no independent groups, then the progress of democracy will move forward very slowly,” he said.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, however, yesterday dismissed civil society’s claims that the democratic space was shrinking in Cambodia, saying that the government had educated the public about their right to choose their leaders.

“The democratic space in Cambodia is not shrinking,” he said. “The Cambodian Peoples Party, the ruling party, has encouraged more participation from the international organizations and civil society in order to protect democracy.”


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