The Cambodian government is facing more accusations it has cracked down on freedoms of expression and the media in the past several years.
In a new report by the Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, researchers found “trade union leaders, land rights activists and journalists have faced among the worst human rights violations [and are] facing new legal restrictions and fierce retaliation for documenting and denouncing abuses.”
Dozens of land rights activists were detained on charges “designed to remove them from the role as community leaders,” the research group said in a statement.
The group cited the case of venerable monk Loun Sovath, who is embroiled in a land dispute in Siem Reap province, as an example.
Two of Loun Sovath's family members were shot during land protests in Anlong Samnor commune, Chi Kreng district, where villagers and the owner of a water reservoir were disputing ownership of nearly 100 hectares of rice fields.
Loun Sovath, who has led a number of awareness campaigns over the dispute, told VOA Khmer on Thursday the arrests of nine protesters and the wounding of others was “unjust for villagers who led a protest against a land grab.”
“I do not think the violence is calming down,” he said. “But I think that arrests are increasing.”
The international researchers also pointed to the jailing of opposition newspaper editor Hang Chakra as further evidence of the erosion of free expression.
Hang Chakra, the editor of the Khmer Mchas Srok newspaper, was jailed for nearly a year in 2009, after he published articles alleging corruption within the Council of Ministers.
“Since I was in jail, I think media expression has gone down,” he told VOA Khmer Thursday. “The Cambodian government should open their hearts to receive criticism and consider what the NGOs and media are doing. That's better than thinking about a dictatorship against criticism.”
Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the Cambodian People's Party, said freedoms of expression and media were not on the decline. “Right now the Cambodian government is reforming step by step on human rights issues,” he said.