Journalists in CPP Firing Line Over ‘1-Party’ Tag

The single-party National Assembly sat for the third day of its third plenary session Thursday, with a senior ruling party lawmaker calling on Information Minister Khieu Kanharith to examine whether journalists who call the Assembly “single party” can be punished under law.

Sixty-four of the 68 CPP lawmakers who won seats at last year’s disputed election met in parliament to discuss and vote on the government’s Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Courts.

With the absence of the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect, who claim that the July 28 election was marred by fraud and have been boycotting their seats since the Assembly was convened in September, the CPP delegation swiftly passed the new law and began discussing media coverage.

“I regret that the National Assembly, which is the supreme legislative body among the three state powers, is covered by a petty group of journalists that arbitrarily use harsh words,” said Chheang Vun, a senior CPP lawmaker who previously served as the ambassador to Australia.

“As we all hear, they call the Assembly the ‘chicken-butt Assembly,’ the ‘single-party Assembly,’” Mr. Vun told his fellow ruling party lawmakers.

“I would like His Excellency Khieu Kanharith to study and check whether the use of harsh words to look down at the supreme organization of the state should be punished, and what should be done.”

“Please, Excellency, solve this problem,” Mr. Vun said.

The CPP lawmaker also called on Mr. Kanharith and the government to press forward with its plans for a cybercrime law, expressing concern about the information being shared online about the CPP-only Assembly.

“The Facebook network and other media are very messy,” Mr. Vun said. “Do we have this law ready? When will we make this law?”

Contacted Thursday, Mr. Kanharith said it was possible that the media could be punished under the law for describing the Assembly as “single-party,” but did not specify the circumstances.

“It depends on the use of word and intentions of the newspaper,” he said in a Facebook message, adding only that he considers the description wrong.

“Legally speaking you can’t call this assembly a ‘single-party national assembly’ because until now CNRP never give up their seats.”

Asked to specifically respond to Mr. Vun’s request for information about whether journalists could be punished under the law, he wrote: “If he asks me I can say he should ask the said paper to make rectification.”

Prior to Mr. Vun’s comments, the parliamentarians had been discussing the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, which forms one arm of the government’s much-criticized program of judicial reforms. The Assembly Thursday approved the first of six chapters of the law.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker and the spokesman for the CPP, used the opportunity to reiterate to his ruling party colleagues that the party is getting on with the job of reform in the absence of their opposition counterparts.

“The people have accused the courts of not being independent,” he told the chamber. “They could make this accusation in the past, but when this law takes effect, they will not be able to speak like this any more.”

Other CPP lawmakers used the sitting to praise the operations and running of the single-party parliament.

Former Environment Minister Mok Mareth, who was replaced late last year by Say Sam Al, son of CPP Secretary-General Say Chum, spoke for half an hour about what he said was the high quality of discussion of the government’s proposed judicial reform laws in the Assembly.

“After I listened, I wrote down everything in my book,” said Mr. Mareth, now a CPP lawmaker.

“Why do I need to write notes?” he then asked himself.

“The ideas are so new, so I have to remember,” he answered his own question. “We are doing a good job but others say we are doing a bad job.”

Loak Kheng, another ruling party lawmaker, said she was well aware of criticism that the ruling party was rushing its laws through the Assembly. But Ms. Kheng implored her CPP colleagues to consider the virtues of avoiding crippling perfectionism when passing a package of reforms.

“To have a law is better than having no law,” she explained.

“Even though any individual, organization or political party says this law is not perfect, good or correct, I don’t care,” Ms. Kheng said.

“If the law was made with perfection, there would be nothing ever to say about amendments.”

The National Assembly is set to resume its session this morning.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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