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Cambodia Among Countries With a Concerning Decline in Freedoms

Screenshot of Freedom House's world 'Map of Freedom' in 2014.
Screenshot of Freedom House's world 'Map of Freedom' in 2014.

An annual report by the US-based Freedom House says 2014 was part of a bad run for global freedoms. For the ninth consecutive year, freedoms in the world declined, the group says in its report. Cambodia was among those countries ranked “not free” by the group, part of a growing, concerning trend.

“Nearly twice as many countries suffered declines as registered gains—61 to 33—and the number of countries with improvements hit its lowest point since the nine-year erosion began,” Freedom House says.

Eat Sopheak Chetra, a first-year university student studying business and finance, told VOA Khmer in an interview that he lives in a Cambodia where “freedom of expression is limited” and “political power is under one group.”

“It is not a democratic country yet,” he said.

Cambodia remains “not free,” under Freedom House criterias, with both political rights and civil liberties at risk.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the report was issued from a “hidden agenda” and did not demonstrate “the truth and reality in Cambodia.”

However, Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said the report is accurate. “They have standards and precise measurements,” he said. And in Cambodia, “freedom of expression and gathering has declined,” he said.

Freedom House says Cambodia is part of a growing, worrying trend worldwide.

“Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any other point in the last 25 years,” Arch Puddington, vice president of the research for the group, says in the report, “Freedom in the World.”

“Until recently, most authoritarian regimes claimed to respect international agreements and paid lip service to the norms of competitive elections and human rights,” Puddington says. “Today they argue for the superiority of what amounts to one-party rule, and seek to throw off the constraints of fundamental diplomatic principles.”

Among those Asian countries joining Cambodia as “not free” is Thailand, which had been considered “partly free” in 2013, but whose political turmoil has dropped it a category. China, Malaysia and Myanmar are all considered “not free” by the group.

In Cambodia, that means limited freedom of speech, sometimes through unexpected censorship.

“At the market if you talk about politics and the chief of the market hears, he’ll tell you to stop,” he said. “They set up Freedom Park, which only has the name, but people can’t really protest there. If there is a protest, there will be a crack down.”

This, he said, concerns him. “If a country has bad politics, if the politicians don’t die, the people will.”

Chuob Hab, a tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh, said he freely talks about politics, just not publicly. “Some people are afraid to talk with journalists, because they are afraid of retribution,” he said. He said he thought people can “protest freely,” as long as they do it orderly, even a single person, holding a placard and demonstrating alone. In Cambodia, democracy is different, he said, and if you protest, “you will be accused of causing chaos.”

And there are those in Cambodia who do not believe their freedom is restricted, such as Chheang Pheaktra, who owns a transportation company. “For me it is good,” he said. “My livelihood is good. I don’t want to create any chaos. The poor want change. For me, I’m happy with my life. Everything is perfect for me.”