PHNOM PENH - Lawyers in Cambodia say they are now afraid to provide interviews to the media, following statements by the Cambodian government and the Bar Association banning them from doing so without official permission.
The Ministry of Information and the Cambodian Bar Association announced last month that lawyers would need to file official requests for permission before talking to journalists.
Human Rights Watch has urged international donors to publicly press the government and the bar to reverse the policy.
“Just when you thought the Cambodian government couldn’t think of any new ways to try to muzzle critics, it has imposed an election-year ban on lawyers giving radio and television interviews,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “This ban dramatically demonstrates the government’s aim to control the media and the legal profession, but more broadly makes a mockery of free speech in a democratic society.”
Instructions from the Ministry of Information issued Jan. 31 say all lawyers invited to discuss the law with media must first clear the appearance with the Bar Association. The bar also issued its own warning, saying that lawyers are not allowed to give interviews without authorization.
“The bar’s order would effectively prevent lawyers from making any statement through the print media as well as broadcast media without the bar’s approval,” Human Rights Watch said.
“The actions of the Information Ministry and the Cambodian Bar Association appear designed to prevent criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party,” the group said. “Many lawyers have become outspoken critics of the government and courts, which are frequently used to imprison or intimidate critics.”