A draft law to protect state secrets has been in the works for more than two years and could be submitted to the Council of Minister for review in two months’ time, a senior police official said yesterday.
The existence of the draft law first came to light on January 28 when the National Police announced on its website that the Interior Ministry was in the process of drawing it up. A post on the website said the law would aim to protect “state secrets in order to ensure national secrecy is strictly protected.”
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said yesterday that the ministry had been working on the draft law for more than two years.
“I hope after one or two more months this draft will be passed by the ministry and sent to the Council of Ministers,” Lieutenant General Chantharith said.
He said the law was designed to protect the government’s “secret information.”
“It is related to information that is not publicly disseminated,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith added. “For example, the secret information related to security, defense, economy, environment.”
The spokesman explained that the law, in its current state, included provisions that would allow the government to prosecute anyone who revealed information deemed secret, but said he could not recall specifics.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, however, said yesterday that his ministry had not yet begun drafting the law—at least not on paper.
“Nothing has been worked on yet,” he said. “It’s just in our minds.”
General Sopheak said a committee to draft the law had not been set up, either.
“We don’t have any concrete measures,” he said. “We just keep in mind that we should have this law in the future.”
Echoing Lt. Gen. Chantharith, he said the law would be meant to protect all “secrets of the state,” but refused to elaborate.
“Many countries have this law, so Cambodia should have this law to protect the interest of the nation,” he said.
A post on the National Police website last month says senior government officials have been traveling to Vietnam to learn how to draft the law.
Vietnam has long been criticized for broadly classifying information as secrets and using its own state-secrets law to jail dissidents.
Last Friday, Vietnamese authorities shut down the website of the Nguoi Cao Tuoi newspaper, which had gained a reputation for publishing stories about corruption, according to an article posted to the English-language website of Thanh Nien, another Vietnamese newspaper.
They also revoked the press credentials of the paper’s editor-in-chief, the article says.
According to Tuoi Tre, yet another Vietnamese newspaper, Nguoi Cao Tuoi was being punished for running stories “disclosing state secrets.”
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, called Vietnam’s involvement in Cambodia’s state-secrets law concerning.
He said his organization did not have details about the draft law and that he was working with other civil society organizations to find out more information about it.
“The first concern is we need to know what are the areas the government defines as secrets,” he said.
Mr. Kol said that while he was not wholly opposed to a state-secrets law, the drafting process should be open and transparent.
“People understand the need [for] a law that may protect the interests of the country,” he said. “But we want to make sure the [state] secret law doesn’t compromise the citizens’ rights to freedom of information.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was not aware of the draft law.