A rights group and journalist organization on Thursday slammed a lawmaker from Cambodia’s ruling party for barring an opposition MP from addressing the media with his concerns over a controversial draft law on nongovernmental organizations currently under review by parliament.
In a statement, Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) condemned senior Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) member and National Assembly (parliament) spokesman Chheang Von for shutting down a press briefing by Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) MP Um Sam An at the legislature.
“CHRAC reminds members of the National Assembly not to arbitrarily interfere with the rights and privileges of other members of Parliament to freely address the press and properly serve the interests of the people they represent,” the statement said.
“We strongly recommend that the National Assembly, in this time of tension regarding the ongoing drafting of laws, preserve a public space for press and deputies within the premise of parliament,” it said.
“We trust that the National Assembly of a democratic country will respond in accordance with the Constitution of Cambodia and with their internal rules to preserve a peaceful environment and a culture of dialogue.”
Chheang Von, who is also chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission, told the media Wednesday that the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) would essentially remain intact, despite government assurances that it was still under review.
The government approved the draft law on June 5 and sent it to the National Assembly on June 16 for review by its commissions on foreign affairs and the interior to ensure it complies with the constitution.
Chheang Von said it was imperative to pass the law as soon as possible in order to guarantee social stability and prevent foreign interference, adding that a final decision on the law would be made by July 8.
After giving the interview, Chheang Von banned Um Sam An from speaking to reporters about his concerns over the draft law on the grounds of parliament without first obtaining permission from National Assembly president Heng Samrin.
Um Sam An addressed the press anyway, saying Chheang Von was violating his rights as a lawmaker, as well as the rules of the National Assembly and constitution, by refusing to let him speak.
He said that CNRP lawmakers would refuse to support the LANGO if recommendations they made on amending it were not incorporated into the final draft, before guards escorted reporters out of the building.
Chheang Von also threatened to destroy the equipment of an RFA reporter who was taking photos at the National Assembly at the time.
‘Violation of the press law’
CHRAC’s criticism of Chheang Von’s actions was echoed in a statement Thursday by the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), which also denounced the ruling party MP for throwing reporters out of the National Assembly.
“The CCJ is saddened that National Assembly spokesman Chheang Von expelled reporters from the Assembly building and used inappropriate language and behavior against them,” the statement read, adding that the group considered the act “a serious violation of the press law.”
“The CCJ urges all state institutions, lawmakers and civil servants to implement the press law, and to refrain from abusing it. They must recognize journalists who are performing their professional duties.”
The statement came as a group of bodyguards for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers blocked several reporters from interviewing Um Sam An on Thursday about several recent confrontations between Cambodian activists and villagers from Vietnam over territory along the two countries’ shared border.
The lawmaker and reporters were asked to leave the building.
Both international and domestic NGOs and rights groups oppose the LANGO because they say it would jeopardize their rights and restrict their activities in the impoverished country.
A group of United Nations officials also have criticized the proposed law, prompting the government to warn them not to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
But Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week repeated that he will stand by the LANGO, despite continued opposition, and said he had no doubt the law would be passed by parliament.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.