Representatives from the European Union in Phnom Penh met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday to express concern at the human rights situation in Cambodia, specifically freedom of expression and the rule of law.
British Ambassador Andrew Mace, who is representing Sweden in their presidency of the EU, German Ambassador Frank Marcus Mann and the European Commission Charge d’Affaires Rafael Dochao-Moreno attended the meeting with Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who represented the government.
The EU expressed “concern over a number of instances in which criminal charges of defamation and disinformation have been used against representatives of civil society, the media and the political opposition,” the EU said in a demarche, or statement, following the meeting, adding that transparency, the rule of law, freedom of expression and open political debate are indispensable elements of democracy.
“Respect for the democratic principals and human rights established by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights constitutes an essential element of the EC-Cambodia Cooperation Agreement, and plays a central part in the political and development relationship between the EU and Cambodia,” the demarche stated.
The EU’s meeting with the government follows a Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruling Tuesday that found SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordered her to pay about $4,100 in fines and compensation. Ms Sochua said that the decision was a political one “and the decision has made me, a victim, become an offender.”
In June, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted and sentenced opposition-affiliated newspaper editor Hang Chakra to one year in prison for disinformation over stories published in April and May in the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper that were critical of Cabinet Minister Sok An and other CPP officials.
In July, Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper editor Dam Sith had a disinformation case against him, lodged by the government, dropped after he promised to shut his newspaper down. Last year, a Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper editor and his son were gunned down by assassins on a busy street in Phnom Penh. No suspects have yet been identified in that double murder.
Several other lawsuits lodged by government officials are pending against members of the opposition party, journalists and human rights workers.
Germany’s Ambassador Mann said by telephone on Friday that during the meeting it was made clear that the EU is “very unhappy with the present situation.”
“We will see that the Cambodian government sees to what we have presented,” he said.
Britain’s Ambassador Mace said by telephone that the demarche was part of the EU’s ongoing dialogue with the government on human rights.
“The meeting dealt with the range of issues surrounding freedom of expression. It isn’t with regards to any one particular event,” he said.
Mr Mace added that Friday morning’s meeting with government officials was “fairly frank” and brought about a “constructive exchange” of views.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state of the Foreign Ministry, and Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information and government spokesman, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Also in its statement, the EU said that it was committed to working with the government on strengthening democracy and called on Cambodia to take “appropriate action to ensure it is conforming to its national and international commitments, including under the UN human rights instruments to which it is a party.”