Hundreds of people gathered in provinces around the country Wednesday to demonstrate against a pending NGO law that opponents fear will be used to muzzle groups that criticize the ruling CPP.
The Senate on Wednesday announced it would vote on the law on Friday.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights groups Licadho, said that between 30 and 500 people came together in each of 13 provinces where the NGO has offices to demonstrate their opposition to the law.
“In some locations, they gathered at the [NGO] offices, while others marched and distributed leaflets and stickers to people to show that they do not support the law and to ask the Senate to drop it,” he said. “They held the campaign after they learned that it will affect their communities and NGOs.”
The law would require most nongovernment groups to register with the government and file annual reports with the state on their activities and finances. The government says it needs the legislation to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, but NGOs worry it will use vague provisions on maintaining political neutrality and respecting Cambodian traditions to bar or shut down groups that speak out on sensitive issues.
Stoking those fears, government security guards in Phnom Penh arrested five women on Saturday for handing out leaflets and stickers opposing the NGO law at markets around the city. The group was released a few hours later.
Mr. Sam Ath said authorities made no attempts to interfere in Wednesday’s activities, however.
In Kompong Thom province, Chhuom Run, a local monitor for Licadho, said about 25 people from 10 organizations handed out more than 200 leaflets and stickers at a market.
In Tbong Khmum province, nearly 300 people embroiled in a land dispute gathered outside the offices of the Memot district government and marched to their local market, also handing out hundreds of leaflets and stickers, said Vong Sengthuy, another Licadho monitor.
“We cannot accept the law because it will make it difficult to register and will prevent NGOs and associations from helping our community get our land and our rights,” said Pon Sophal, one of the marchers. “The government will use this law to block any NGO that helps people fight powerful officials or rich people.”
The CPP used its majority in the National Assembly to approve the law last week amid a boycott by the CNRP, which opposes the bill.
On Wednesday, the Senate announced that it would vote on the law on Friday. Opposition lawmakers in the Senate have declared their intention to boycott the vote.