Cambodia’s controversial law on approving and staging demonstrations will soon be overhauled, officials said.
A new draft law on public assembly was unveiled at a news conference on Friday that capped a two-day seminar where government, trade union and NGO representatives debated the provisions in the text, said Community Legal Education Center Executive Director Yeng Virak.
The currently enforced law on demonstration, adopted in 1991, provides scant definition of the grounds for refusing a permit and of the conditions in which police may use force against demonstrators. It requires only three days’ advance notice and allows authorities to issue a rejection as little as 24 hours before the march is scheduled to begin.
The new draft, which does not concern political and labor rallies or religious processions, lengthens the application processing time and provides for a more clearly defined appeals process. It also introduces the notion of “freedom parks,” areas where small groups could convene without seeking permission.
According to officials familiar with the discussions, several provisions came in for criticism.
If demonstrators at a march carry weapons or are violent, the draft says, “the leader…shall be prohibited to be the leader forever” at future marches and be fined between $245 and $1,225.
The draft would also require the contents of marchers’ flags, banners, signs and recordings to be declared in advance. If a permit request is denied on appeal, organizers can sue for relief, but the text offers no assurance of expediency.
The ministry “cannot draft this law without consulting civil society,” said Interior Ministry Secretary of State Nuth Sa An, otherwise, “when we implement the plan, we might have friction.”
Nuth Sa An said Monday that he hoped to have the draft before the National Assembly “very soon,” though he could not name a date.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said he felt the new draft was not significantly different from the current law and that he had refused to participate in the seminar.
“I don’t want to be a rubber stamp,” he said. “If the government want to crack down, they still can crack down.”
In discussing the draft, Yeng Virak, who was recently released from jail after being accused of defamation, thanked the government Friday “for their commitment to the respect of human rights.”