Freedom of Speech More Restricted: Adhoc

The “free political space” for people to speak up or take lawful action against officials drastically shrank last year, according to a report by local rights group Adhoc

With the exception of 1997—the year of the CPP-Funcinpec factional fighting and the grenade attack in Phnom Penh—the margin for pro­test against the authorities may have been at its smallest since 1993, said the report on 2005, released on Fri­day.

The report noted a wave of legal ac­tion against activists and opposition officials, restraints on demon­stra­tions and strikes, and an in­creasing number of land disputes.

“I was frightened much more [in 2005] than in previous years,” Adhoc President Thun Saray said at a press conference.

“Journalists and vendors at the market dared not to talk, [which was] something much different from previous years when they usu­ally discussed political issues,” he added.

Government spokesman Khieu Kan­­­harith on Sunday called the re­port exaggerated and ill-intention­ed. “I don’t think 2005 was worse than ’93, ’94, ’95. Maybe they just need some money from donors,” he said. “They try to release the re­port before the [international do­nors’ Consultative Group] meeting,” he added. “They try to confuse everybody.”

The report stated that arrest warrants issued for government critics and the sentencing to 20 years in pri­son for Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun in August, found guilty of killing union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004, clearly illustrate the judiciary’s lack of independence. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “iron fist” policy on court corruption is proving a double-edged sword, it added.

“On the positive side, the judges and prosecutors are scared to re­lease criminal suspects from jail on re­ceiving bribes, but a negative effect is that they are also scared to reject interference from the executive in high profile cases.”

Of 89 demonstrations and strikes re­lated to land disputes, labor rights and other issues in 2005, at least 20 were “severely cracked down on” by officials, and at least 40 people ar­rested although later released, said the report.

The government continues to de­lay authorization for the UN High Com­missioner for Refugees to meet Montagnard asylum-seekers fleeing Vietnam, it stated. “[Cam­bodian] government authorities are still severely controlling the new arrivals by arresting them and sending them back to Vietnam,” the report said. Unprecedented deadly violence was committed by armed forces against the poor in land disputes, as in the March killings in Poipet’s Kbal Spean village, it said.

“No one from the authorities is ever found responsible for the killings…. On the contrary, more and more poor and powerless victims of land conflicts have been ar­rested,” said the report.

Killings within families were on the increase, with most of the victims being women, the report said. Gang rape also increased. Food sec­urity remains a concern, with at least five deaths from star­vation re­port­ed in Kampot, Kan­dal and Kom­­pong Speu prov­inces. On a posi­tive note, the report said the do­nor community re­sponded in a uni­fied way to the ar­rests of ac­­tivists.

“This ‘one voice’ response…could be used in the future to accelerate key reforms for the country,” the re­port noted, adding: “It is likely that the situation will continue to im­prove at least up until the general elec­tions in 2008.”

 

 

 

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