The Bar Association of Cambodia (BAKC) came under more fire on Friday for what three local human rights groups said is an attempt to infringe on the rights of lawyers to speak to the media.
The Bar Association sent a letter to its members on January 23, which informed them that legal action would be taken against them if their communication with the media brought the legal body into disrepute. On the association’s request, this was reiterated by the Ministry of Information on January 31, which told television and radio stations to seek approval from the lawyers club before speaking to its members.
“Neither the BAKC nor the Ministry of Information have any place determining who can and cannot appear in the Cambodian media—a free and independent media being a cornerstone of any democratic society,” local rights groups Adhoc, Licadho and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said in a joint statement.
“In addition, the BAKC and the Ministry of Information should be encouraging lawyers to disseminate legal information, not attempting to stifle their free speech,” the groups said.
The groups are not the first to take the lawyers association to task over the gag order. Last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch blasted the order for effectively gagging lawyers in an election year, claiming that the tactic is being used to muzzle free speech.
“The move to censor what lawyers can and cannot say in public raises serious questions about the BAKC’s motives and impartiality, and worse: it could undermine the important role lawyers play in protecting the rights of Cambodian citizens,” the joint statement continued.
Just last week, a lawyer representing jailed radio station owner Mam Sonando said he could not discuss his client’s upcoming appeal, citing the Bar Association’s directive as the reason why.
Bar Association President Bun Honn also has denied that the order stemmed from comments made by Kuoy Thunna, the lawyer representing two firms in a legal dispute with bankrupt telecommunications company Mfone.