A senior Ministry of the Interior official lashed out at critics of the proposed freedom of assembly law on Monday, saying a newspaper article detailing concerns about the law had been written under the influence of “too many amphetamines.”
Defending the draft law, Interior Ministry Undersecretary of State Sieng Lapresse wrote in a letter that he had conducted his own interviews with an unnamed foreign diplomat and an official from the UN center for human rights, and found that they both supported the law.
The draft law, which was written by the Interior Ministry, requires that spontaneous demonstrations be held in so-called “freedom parks” for no more than four hours and be attended by no more than 30 people.
“Those interviewed [on Monday] morning said the draft law protects freedom of assembly and speech afforded by the Constitution. A UN rights office official…also asserted the term ‘freedom park’ encourages the protest to be more responsible and to minimize the damage of interest of others,” Sieng Lapresse wrote.
He also criticized Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who had said the law would harm poor farmers who travel long distances from remote areas to protest land grabs.
“A foreign diplomat said Son Chhay is a grown man, and he should not be afraid, because a freedom park is just a public square for mass tension relief,” Sieng Lapresse wrote.
Sieng Lapresse said by telephone that the law was also supported by US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli and Margo Picken, coordinator of the UN Office of the High Commission of Human Rights. Both participated in a February forum held on the law, he said.
But US Embassy Spokesman Jeff Daigle said Mussomeli had reservations about the law.
“He raised a host of questions about the draft law,” Daigle said, listing the most weighty as a permit requirement, a limitation on the size of demonstrations and possible punishments for those who did not comply.
Daigle said that Mussomeli believes the country should have a law on assembly, but added: “The Cambodian government needs to get it right.”
Picken did not respond to faxed, e-mailed and telephoned requests for comment.