Nine civil society organizations Wednesday expressed concern that a proposed rule banning NGOs from giving interviews or releasing statements during election campaigns that are deemed to be “insulting” would be used to stifle their voices.
The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP are currently drafting a modified national election law, and say the provision is necessary to ensure NGOs remain neutral during official campaign periods.
A statement released Wednesday—signed by local rights groups including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Licadho and Adhoc—says the ban would prove dangerous if introduced.
“Whilst the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, restrictions can only be introduced where absolutely necessary to serve a legitimate aim, whereas a ban on giving media interviews appears intended to shield the government and members of political parties from criticism,” the statement says.
“Vaguely worded provisions providing penalties for ‘insulting’ political parties or candidates would leave considerable room for broad interpretation by authorities to authorize crackdowns on dissenting voices,” it says.
“The introduction of such measures would only serve to stifle public debate, impair citizens’ constitutional right to participate actively in the political life of the nation, and undermine civil society’s legitimate role in holding public authorities to account,” it adds.
CNRP official Kuoy Bunroeun, who has led the opposition in the drafting of the new election law, could not be reached Wednesday, but he said on Monday he believed evidence-based criticism from NGOs during campaigns would not be considered “insulting.”
Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who has led the CPP in the talks, also said Monday he was not worried that the qualifier “insulting” could be interpreted widely to silence NGOs, saying the word’s meaning already appears in Cambodian law.
“Of course, it is called ‘insulting,’ so I’ll let [you] check the criminal code,” he said. “When we state ‘insulting,’ then look at the definition of insult written in the criminal code. And if [someone is] found guilty, we would follow what that says.”