The Ministry of Education has issued a directive banning political activism or association at academic institutions, saying it will fine or shut down universities, post-secondary schools and student organizations that have engaged in or promoted political activity.
The directive, signed Monday by Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, also allows for the removal of academics and students complicit in such activities.
“Recently, [the ministry] has seen that at public academic institutions and private academic institutions, there are a number of associations, organizations, education staff members and teachers engaged in abnormal activities,” the directive reads, citing campaigns to elect student body leaders as one example.
“These activities affect order in academic institutions and are contrary to their principle of neutrality, and especially contrary to the Education Law.”
The directive requires prior approval from the ministry to form organizations or host events.
Contacted by telephone, Mr. Chuon Naron explained that if the country’s political climate infiltrated the school system, the education of youth would be undermined.
“We do not need the educational establishment to be a political arena for fighting—we want teachers and students to focus on studying.”
Ros Salin, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, also said the directive would allow students to focus on their studies.
Asked to explain the existence of pro-CPP youth organizations at schools, such as the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Many, Mr. Salin said these were extracurricular groups that promote humanitarian causes.
“The Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia is a group involved in social work engaging youth and students to help them understand the issues, but they do their work outside of study hours,” he said.
Ouk Chhayavy, acting president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said that the ministry’s directive violated the rights of associations and unions.
“We cannot accept regulations that violate international law because when we ask for approval from the authority, they would not allow it because they are all CPP,” she said.