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Gov’t Official Defends Draft Law on NGOs

A pro-democracy activist joins an anti-NGO draft law campaign in front of National Assembly on June 30, 2015. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)

A senior government official on Wednesday defended the controversial draft law to regulate NGOs, as members of the government and civil society met in Phnom Penh.

Pol Lim, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, which prepared the draft, told participants at the meeting the law was done in consultation with representatives from nine different countries and was not beyond international norms.

Critics of the law say they fear it will be used to clamp down on pubic dissent and criticism of the government.

“This draft law would offer full availability to local associations and NGOs to obtain aid from foreigners to server their activities, but they are required to copy reports of their activities and financial status and submit to authorities annually,” Pol Lim said.

Cambodia has more than 4,000 NGOs and other associations, so a law is needed to regulate them, he said. But the law is not intended to restrict their activities, he added.

Many NGOs remain concerned, however.

Soeung Saroeun, executive director of Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting that the law requires registration for any association, which is counter to the right to free assembly. It also requires NGOs to be politically neutral, which is a violation of the right to free expression and other political rights.

“The stance of the civil society organizations is that we can’t accept the current form of this draft law,” he said.

According to a draft of the law obtained by VOA Khmer, NGOs not registered with the Ministry of Interior will have to cease their activities or face fines up to $2,500. The draft also puts strict registration on foreign associations or NGOs and would allow the Ministry of Interior to deport foreigners working with organizations that do not comply with the law.