NGOs brought about 300 people together in front of the National Assembly on Sunday to protest the pending passage of a law that would force all non-government groups and associations in the country to register and file regular reports with the state.
Critics of the draft legislation, which is under review at the Assembly ahead of a vote, say overly vague and broad provisions would give the government undue powers to shut down—or deny registration to—groups critical of the ruling CPP or issues the party supports.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to push the law through the Assembly with or without the opposition, which opposes it.
“I came to join the protest to support the organizations because they work hard to help people,” said Chhay Koeun, who has received help from NGOs in her Phnom Penh neighborhood’s land dispute with a donor-funded railway project backed by the government.
“This law will put pressure on the organizations, and that will affect the people because they need the help of those organizations,” she said.
Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, an NGO that is often critical of the government, said passage of the law would hurt both Cambodia’s international reputation—the U.S. and U.N. have both spoken out against it—and the CPP’s hold on power.
“Should people vote for a party that ties up their helpers?” he told reporters at the protest. “If the Cambodian People’s Party does not stop making this law, it will lose a lot of its popularity.”
The government says it needs the law to fend off the threat of terrorist financing seeping into the country through NGOs.
However, Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho, another NGO that is often critical, said the law was just a political ploy by the CPP to silence its detractors.
“We are holding the protest today to send a message to the government and the National Assembly that we don’t need this law because it is contrary to the Constitution of Cambodia and international law,” he said.