Government spokesman Phay Siphan deplored an NGO report alleging that fundamental freedoms in Cambodia were “restricted”, saying that the claims were unfounded and did not reflect the reality on the ground in the Kingdom.
Three NGOs – Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), ADHOC and Solidarity Centre – released their sixth annual report on April 28th titled “Cambodian Fundamental Freedoms Monitor”.
In their more than 80-page monitoring report covering January-December 2021, the organisations concluded that the space available for the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Cambodia remained restricted and that the nation’s “civic space” continued to be curtailed.
“Despite the government’s duty to respect, protect and promote the freedoms of association, expression and assembly, the report records more than 300 restrictions and violations of fundamental freedoms in every province,” the report stated.
Siphan dismissed the claims as baseless. “The report does not reflect the truth about Cambodian society. The government always bases its decisions on the law in regards to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. All people have equal rights, but they cannot stray from being under the jurisdiction of the law,” he said.
The report also cited the enactment of the National Internet Gateway (NIG) sub-decree, Covid-19 law and the prakas targeting monks in the country as new constraints on the ability of Cambodians to exercise fundamental freedoms.
The report’s authors were of the view that these laws and regulations joined an existing legal framework that restricted fundamental freedoms and did not fully comply with international human rights laws.
The report said the restrictions were of concern as Cambodia is approaching its commune council elections on June 5 and that Phnom Penh has seen the most cases where freedoms were restricted overall.
However, Siphan said the report should have also included commentary or a response from the government in order to explain their policies to the public and promote a better understanding of law enforcement activities related to freedom of speech and assembly.
He said the actions taken by authorities that were seen by the report’s authors as restrictions were merely to ensure social order.
“If their activists promote freedom of speech and assembly but don’t bother to educate people about respecting public order, then that’s just an incitement aimed at causing problems in our society,” he said.
Chin Malin, vice-president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), voiced similar sentiments regarding Cambodia’s “space” for freedom and democracy.
“[Freedom and democracy] aren’t reserved for the handful of people who carry out actions that violate the law and cause chaos to advance their political agenda.
“The majority of innocent people are happy with the open space available for freedom and democracy,” Malin said, adding that some laws may not be written perfectly, but they can be amended according to necessity and the reality of the situation in Cambodian society.
“The most important thing is that we must respect the law. If we don’t and we violate the law, that violates other people’s freedoms.
“Defying Covid-19 public health measures and undermining public safety are not the exercising of freedoms. Those are examples of people committing criminal offences for which they must legally be held responsible,” he said.