Hun Sen Warns Gov’t Officials About Dissent

In an address televised over the weekend, Prime Minister Hun Sen told government officials from the highest to the lowest levels not to disagree with the gov­ern­ment’s policies in public forums.

Government officials, whether participating in NGO-sponsored seminars, conferences or consultative meetings, should not voice their own views, opinions or ideas, since these might create po­litical instability, Hun Sen said in a directive aired on TVK.

“There have been a number of people who have violated this… policy and have taken the opportunity to use these forums to intentionally, directly or indirectly attack the government…by falsifying facts and aiming to destroy… national solidarity,” the premier said in the address.

In the interests of peace, national unity and democracy, and to maintain the integrity of government participation in forums set up by civil society and NGOs, government representatives must respect their duty as professionals, “in order to protect and preserve the dignity and honor of the government,” Hun Sen said.

“Those participants are re­quired to get approval from the head of the government before joining seminars, conferences or consultative meetings,” he added.

This restriction on government officials’ speech is a blow to Cam­bodian leadership, Chea Vannath,  president of the Center for Social Development, said Monday.

“When those at the top prevent those at the bottom from talking, those at the top will not know the truth,” she said.

The Center for Social Devel­opment has organized 48 public forums since 1996 but has had dif­ficulty getting government officials to participate, Chea Vannath said. She said she fears it will only be more difficult to attract government participation now, with  Hun Sen sending such signals.

“Public forums are the voice of the people. When the leadership does not participate, it’s dangerous,” she said.

The center has sent about 10 invitations to Hun Sen to participate in forums on Kandal pro­vince, since he is that province’s representative in parliament, Chea Vannath said. But, she said, he has never responded.

Lao Mong Hay, executive director at the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said government officials are also citizens and should have the right to free speech.

But Kem Sokha, chairman of the Senate Human Rights Com­mission, said Hun Sen’s directive addresses professional discipline.

“It all depends on the status of participants. If people are representing the government, they have to be on the government’s side,” Kem Sokha said. “But if they attend a meeting as individuals, they have the right to speak freely. If the government prevents them from having this freedom of speech and expression, that violates the Constitution.”


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