An international human rights group added its voice to mounting claims that Cambodia’s rights defenders are coming under growing government pressure with a new report it released yesterday.
In “Cambodia: Freedom of expression, association and assembly: A shrinking space,” the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders argues that new and pending laws are drawing an ever tighter circle around free speech and expression in the country. It follows similar reports released this week by Freedom House and Licadho, one of two local NGOs the Observatory partners with.
A project of two European rights groups- the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and Geneva’s World Organization Against Torture- the Observatory paid a 10-day fact-finding visit to Cambodia in mid-February, meeting prisoners, activists, government officials and foreign diplomats.
“The trend that we observed is that the space in which human rights defenders do their work in Cambodia is getting smaller and smaller,” said Jens Tinga, a Dutch labor rights activist visiting Cambodia on behalf of the Human Rights Federation to help launch the report.
“A number of laws…will limit people to organize themselves or express themselves,” he said.
Mr Tinga cited as an example the new Criminal Code, which criminalizes defamation, and the recently approved Law on Peaceful Demonstrations, which calls on each province to build a “freedom park” for protesters. Though the government insists protesters will not be restricted to the parks, rights groups worry authorities will use them as an excuse to deny requests to demonstrate elsewhere.
Bouth Chik, who sits on the Council of Ministers’ legislative council, said he had not heard of the Observatory’s report but rejected the suggestion that the country’s new laws were stifling rights activists.
“I don’t support this idea because these laws provide equal opportunities to all people in the country,” he said.