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Civil Society Groups Express Concerns Over Restrictive Laws


Speakers from the opposition party and civil society discuss "Freedom in the Making? The Cambodian Constitution, Writing and Reality?" in a debate organised by Friedrich Naumann, September 25, 2015 in Meta House. (Courtesy Photo/Kun Nak's Friedrich Naumann)

Civil society groups in Cambodia have expressed concerns over increasing restrictions placed on them since the passage of laws governing NGOs and unions.

Civil society groups in Cambodia have expressed concerns over increasing restrictions placed on them since the passage of laws governing NGOs and unions.

The groups were speaking on Thursday at an annual meeting of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), a coalition of some 160 civil society groups.

Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said during a panel discussion at the event that the CCC’s members were coming under increasing pressure from the state.

“Like with the NGO and union laws, they are putting more pressure on [civil society]. If we look at freedom of assembly, these days the government cracks down without caring about laws or their obligations,” he said.

“With regards to freedom of expression, the government, especially the prime minister, makes threats almost every day.”

Som Sereyvathana, a representative of a local Bantaey Meanchey group, Rural Community and Environment Development (RCED), said the knock-on effect of the new laws and the arrests of rights workers and activists has seen a rising fear of repercussions among NGO workers.

He said local NGOs such as RCED are now obligated to file reports of their meetings to the government. “Nowadays, perhaps we’re being followed,” he said, referring to concerns over government surveillance.

Wan-Hea Lee, head of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said when governments take action against civil society “solidarity” among NGO workers was important.

“This is critical. When someone in civil society is under threat, [the] whole civil society is under threat,” she said. “It’s not just civil society; this can happen to the ordinary individual on the street. A law or regulation that can be used against human rights defenders can be used against the defenseless public.”

However, Khieu Sopheak, interior ministry spokesman, said there was no need for concern.

He claimed the number of NGOs in Cambodia had risen by a third the NGO law was passed in 2015.

“Those people who talk about the law just speak rashly to serve their interests ahead of the elections,” he said.

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