Cambodia’s interior ministry has ordered officials to report on the activities of civil society groups and grassroots associations and said it will stop planned events if they are deemed a threat to national security.
In a letter from the ministry distributed on October 2, the ministry said officials should report on the “nature of activity” at least three days prior to any planned event.
The increased pressure on civil society comes amid a widespread crackdown on political freedoms that have seen the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, jailed on questionable charges and legal proceedings launched that could see the CNRP dissolved.
Officials are legally allowed to stop public gatherings from taking place only in extreme circumstances, but in practice, the law has been used by authorities to stop civil society events which the government opposes on political grounds, including documentary screenings and charity bike rides.
Under the recently passed Law on Associations and NGOs, civil society groups are not required to report their daily activities to the government.
Khieu Sopheak, an interior spokesman, said on Monday that it was illegal for NGOs to be involved in organizing protests, without referring to what part of Cambodian jurisprudence prohibited NGOs from organizing protest events.
“If they are involved in such activities, they would break the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations. We should look up the law and see what we can do,” he said.
Yoeung Sotheara, a legal officer with election watchdog Comfrel, said that while NGOs and associations were obliged to notify the authorities if they were planning to hold a public event, they did not have to ask for permission.
“The order of the interior ministry is contradictory to the constitution and seriously threatens people’s freedom of expression,” he said.
Soeung Sen Karona, a rights worker with local group Adhoc, which regularly sends observers to demonstrations as witnesses, agreed. “I think that it undermines the people’s freedom of expression and is a concern for some organizations regarding their activities. They will have a hard time to fulfill their duties to help people.”