The Cambodian government has threatened legal action against two local election monitoring groups it claims violated the law governing the behavior of non-governmental organizations.
The Interior Ministry wrote letters to Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel) and Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of Nicfec, claiming the groups’ involvement in producing a report critical of the recent local elections breached article 24 of the law.
Both organizations were members of the Situation Room, a coalition of election monitoring groups which issued a report late last month that outlined alleged rights violations and irregularities during the election campaign.
The letters ordered the groups to halt their activities and said the Situation Room was an unregistered organization and in breach of the law.
General Khieu Sopheak, interior spokesman, said the 40-member organization had not been neutral in its reporting of the elections.
“In the first instance, we only alert them to halt their activities. The second time, there will be serious action. If they continue, there will be legal action,” he said.
Under Article 24 of the NGO law, which was controversially amended prior to the election in June, NGOs are required to “maintain their neutrality towards political parties”.
VOA Khmer could not reach Panha or Kuntheamy for comment.
Yoeung Sotheara, a legal officer with Comfrel, said the Situation Room had met its legal obligations and that its report reflected the reality of what the group had observed during the election.
“When the government does not allow civil society to participate in electoral affairs, such as observing and monitoring, while the law states it can, I think that democracy in the country is being restricted,” he said.