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Draft Penal Code Risks Freedoms: Group

A coalition of 30 civic organizations warned on Thursday that National Assembly debate over a new penal code appeared to erode civil liberties while skimming over clarity on criminality.

The National Assembly has approved more than 400 of 672 articles in the new law, as more debate remains ahead.

Groups have warned the draft law is damaging to freedoms of expression and assembly, at a time when the executive branch of government has been slammed for its own attacks on dissent, with opposition parliamentarians and journalists shouldering punitive lawsuits from senior government officials.

The penal code, drafted with the help of the French government, seeks to update a combination of 1995 laws, tradition, the constitution and principles of international law.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee said it was concerned that public officials “will be able to use some articles in the penal code to shut the rights and freedoms of demonstration and assembly.”

The group has sent recommendations to the National Assembly voicing these and other concerns.

Yim Sovann, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, called the recommendations “very positive.”

“The penal code has some good points, but some points are obstacles to rights and freedoms of expression,” he said.

Under the draft law, he said, “if someone makes an improper expression, someone will be guilty of defamation, insult, incitement, or falsifying information.”

“More seriously, if someone dares to make a lawsuit against any corrupt man, and if that man cannot find evidence, and the court understands that the complaint is not true, that man will face punishment,” he said.

However, Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the draft code “respects the rights and freedom of expression and the principles of UN fundamental human rights.”

Last week, the National Assembly voted against amendments to the new code that opposition proponents said would increase freedom of expression and improve justice and democracy.