Cambodia: Rights group concerns over arrests & harassment of activists amid the Covid-19 pandemic measures

In late January, Cambodia's Prime Minister made a televised statement about the spread of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 virus outbreak originating from Wuhan, China. He also threatened to “kick out” reporters or officials seen wearing a face mask.

Since the outbreak and ongoing spread of the Covid-19 in Cambodia, the Cambodian government has taken more agressive measures to contain the virus. As a consequence, rights group has reported a number of cases related to arrests of activists and individuals allegedly speading fake news about the Covid-19 pandemic. The latest incident is a direct warning of arrest made by the Cambodia's Prime Minister towards a deputy director of LICADHO, a local human rights NGO, over his comments on govt's responses to curb the pandemic.?

Photo credit: The Phnom Penh Post

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Article
9 April 2020

Cambodia: International Commission of Jurists warns that Cambodia’s draft Law on a State of Emergency violates rule of law principles & human rights

Author: ICJ

"Cambodia: State of Emergency bill violates the rule of law", 8 April 2020

The ICJ … warned that Cambodia’s draft Law on National Administration in the State of Emergency (“State of Emergency bill”) violates basic rule of law principles and human rights, and called on the Cambodian government to urgently withdraw or amend the bill in accordance with international human rights law and standards.

…, government spokesperson Phay Siphan?explained?that the government needed to bring a State of Emergency law in force to combat the COVID-19 outbreak as “Cambodia is a rule of law country”. The bill is now before the National Assembly and, if passed by the Assembly, will likely be considered in an extraordinary session convened by the Senate. The law will come into force once it has been signed by the King – or in his absence, the acting Head of State, Senate President Say Chhum.

“The Cambodian government has long abused the term “rule of law” to justify bringing into force laws or regulations that are then used to suppress free expression and target critics. This bill is no different,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“Any effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak must not only protect the rights to health and life, but be implemented in accordance with Cambodia’s human rights obligations and basic principles of the rule of law.”…

“If passed in its current form, this bill will reinforce the prevailing lack of accountability which defines the government in Cambodia. The government’s time would be better spent developing genuine public health policy responses to the crisis.”

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Article
9 April 2020

Cambodia: Police & authorities arrest a popular journalist and revoke his media license after he reports direct words of PM responding to Covid-19 measures

Author: Reporters Without Borders

"Cambodian reporter jailed for quoting PM’s comment about Covid-19", 8 April 2020

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands the immediate release of a Cambodian journalist who was arrested … for reporting a comment by Prime Minister Hun Sen about the coronavirus crisis. RSF also calls on the authorities to reinstate the website’s media licence, which has been rescinded.

Sovann Rithy, the director of the?TVFB?news site, was?arrested by the Phnom Penh municipal police yesterday evening?on a charge of “incitement to cause chaos and harm social security” under article 495 of the criminal code, police chief Sar Theth said.

His crime was to have reported a comment … that the prime minister made ... As Sovann Rithy accurately reported in a Facebook post, Hun Sen said: “If motorbike-taxi drivers go bankrupt, sell your motorbikes for spending money. The government does not have the ability to help.”

The information ministry reacted by ordering the revocation of?TVFB’s media licence on the grounds that its editor had “selected” the prime minister’s quote. Sovann Rithy is due to appear before a municipal court ...

“We call on the Cambodian justice system to put an end to this utterly … case by releasing Sovann Rithy at once, and we call on the government to reinstate?TVFB’s media licence,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“Imprisoning a journalist for quoting a statement by the prime minister word for word is more than absurd. The Covid-19 crisis must not be used as pretext for getting rid of journalists who do not blindly toe the government line.”…

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Article
8 April 2020

Cambodia: Four international rights groups concern over restrictions on civic freedoms & human rights defenders posed by draft law on state of emergency

Author: FORUM-ASIA & 3 others

"Cambodia: State of Emergency draft law will put civic freedoms and human rights defenders at further risk", 6 April 2020

CAMBODIA: CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Frontline Defenders and Civil Rights Defenders are seriously concerned about draconian provisions in Cambodia’s draft State of Emergency Law which mandates unfettered power to the executive, undermining fundamental freedoms with no defined endpoint.

The Cambodian government must immediately revise the draft law to bring it in line with international human rights laws and standards. If not, these emergency powers will be used as yet another weapon in Cambodia’s legal arsenal to quash dissent, stifle critics and silence human rights defenders.

The draft law bestows executive power to ban or restrict meetings and to close public or private spaces. It also allows the government to put in place means to observe all telecommunications systems, and to ban or restrict news or social media deemed to “generate public alarm or fear or generate unrest, or that could bring about damage to national security, or that could bring into being confusion regarding the state of emergency”.

… The sweeping powers provided in this bill to ban media accused of ‘damaging national security’ will risk further rollbacks of press freedom and freedom of expression. Since January, at least 22 people have been arrested for sharing allegedly ‘false news’ relating to COVID-19. Human rights defenders, including the Acting Director of local human rights rights group LICADHO, have been threatened over comments made about the government’s response to the pandemic.

... Laws brought in to protect health must not be given carte blanche to blatantly disregard fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: Amnesty International says at least 22 arrests related to allegation of fake news on the Covid-19; while voicing concerns over overcrowded detention centers

Author: Amnesty International

"Cambodia: Overcrowded detention centres a ticking time bomb for COVID-19 amid raft of “fake news” arrests", 27 March 2020

Overcrowded and squalid prisons and detention centres risk becoming detonators for a major COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia that will make the pandemic much harder to control, said Amnesty International today, amid a mounting crackdown on people detained for “causing scares” by talking about the outbreak on social media.

“Instead of addressing the overcrowding crisis in detention centres, Cambodian authorities have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to further harass and detain government critics,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director. “Meanwhile, Cambodian prisons and drug detention centres are dangerously overcrowded and lack even the most basic health services. They are a ticking time bomb for the country and potentially its neighbours.”

At least seven people have been charged and sent to pre-trial detention amid a crackdown on allegedly “false” information related to COVID-19, ...? In total, at least 22 people have been arrested in relation to sharing information about Covid-19 since January, with the majority released without charge after signing pledges to refrain from spreading false information online.

…, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that he was considering invoking Article 22 of the Constitution in order to declare a state of emergency and warned that human rights could be further restricted as a result.

… “The Cambodian government appear more focused on using this pandemic to silence its critics rather than protecting its people and their right to adequate health care. The Cambodian authorities must cease their harassment of critics and address the urgent health needs of all people in Cambodia,” said Nicholas Bequelin…

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: Amnesty International urges Cambodian govt. to withdraw draft Law on State of Emergency; while voicing concerns over a grave threat to human rights & freedoms

Author: Amnesty International

"Cambodia: Proposed emergency powers would obliterate human rights", 2 April 2020

The Cambodian authorities must urgently withdraw or substantially redraft the egregious State of Emergency Law which poses a grave threat to human rights in Cambodia, said Amnesty International today.

“These unprecedented powers are wildly disproportionate and threaten to permanently undercut the human rights of everyone in Cambodia,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director.

“Any emergency measures responding to COVID-19 or other emergencies must be proportionate, strictly necessary, and have the minimal possible impact on human rights. Instead of targeting critics and enacting this draconian law, the Cambodian government should be focusing on protecting the right to health through the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.”…

The draft law contains no checks and balances or periodic reviews of states of emergency, ... It also allows for the invocation of martial law “in the event of war, or in any other circumstances in which there is a serious risk to national security”, which can be broadly interpreted…

The draft law bestows 12 specific powers upon the government in times of emergency, in addition to a catch-all clause bestowing unlimited powers by authorising any “other measures that are deemed appropriate and necessary in response to the state of emergency.”…

The specifically named powers include provisions for conducting surveillance on all telecommunications mediums “using any means necessary”, and the power to ban or restrict the “distribution of information that could scare the public, cause unrest, or that can negatively impact national security, or that can cause confusion in response to the state of emergency”…

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: Govt. defends draft Law on State of Emergency amid Covid-19; while rights group concerns that the law undercuts human rights protection

Author: Narin Sun, VOA

"Gov’t Defends Draft “State of Emergency” Law; Rights Groups Remain Concerned", 2 April 2020

A Cambodian government spokesperson defended the draft “State of Emergency” legislation …, calling the use of the soon-to-be-passed “historic” law as inevitable.

The newly-proposed law on declaring a national emergency would potentially give Cambodian government sweeping powers and unlimited access to martial power to enforce an emergency, while vastly controlling the citizenry’s online and offline activities.

The draft legislation would allow for the curtailment of civil rights and liberties, such as freedom of movement, expression, association, and assembly – all enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution – and widely criticized by rights groups.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesperson, said the law was intended as a good measure to direct Cambodia through any emergency, going on to extol its importance…

The draft “state of emergency” law has received strong criticism from civil society members, human rights defenders, …

While Amnesty International said in a statement the law would obliterate human rights in the country, Human Rights Watch called it a “recipe for dictatorship.”

“These unprecedented powers are wildly disproportionate and threaten to permanently undercut the human rights of everyone in Cambodia,” said Nicholas Bequelin, regional director for Amnesty International, in the statement.

The law enables declaring of a state of emergency in the case of war, foreign invasion, health crises like pandemics, but also the vaguely-defined scenario of “severe chaos to national security and social order.”

…“The Cambodian government should withdraw its draft state of emergency law, which would empower Prime Minister Hun Sen to override fundamental human rights protections,” said Human Rights Watch…

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: HRW condemns govt.'s move to propose Law on State of Emergency amid Covid-19 with concerns over restrictions on fundamental human rights & freedoms

Author: Human Rights Watch

"Cambodia: Emergency Bill Recipe for Dictatorship", 2 April 2020

The?Cambodian?government should withdraw its draft state of emergency law, which would empower Prime Minister Hun Sen to override fundamental human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said ..., the Council of Ministers approved the “Law on Governing the Country in a State of Emergency,” which would allow the government to restrict all civil and political liberties and target human rights, democracy, and media groups…

Hun Sen has claimed that the law is necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government should submit a new draft that addresses the COVID-19 public health crisis while protecting basic rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and privacy, Human Rights Watch said.

“Even before the coronavirus, Hun Sen ran roughshod over human rights, so these sweeping, undefined, and unchecked powers should set off alarm bells among Cambodia’s friends and donors,” said?Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of passing laws to protect public health, the Cambodian government is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to assert absolute power over all aspects of civil, political, social, and economic life – all without any time limits or checks on abuses of power.”

The bill contains many overly broad and vague provisions that would violate fundamental rights without specifying why these measures are necessary and proportionate to address the public health emergency…

Human Rights Watch expressed grave concern that the law could be easily misused against critics … These provisions could easily be used against critics of the government’s handling of the current COVID-19 crisis – or any other situation in which a state of emergency is declared...

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: PM warns senior NGO staff of arrest over comments on govt.'s measures to arrest & educate online users over fake news on Covid-19 pandemic

Author: Narim Khuon, Khmer Times

"Hun Sen blasts rights defender over comments", 31 March 2020

Prime Minister Hun Sen has criticised Licadho’s Am Sam Ath over statements the latter made about security measures the government has taken amid COVID-19 fears.

Mr Sam Ath ... stated over 24 people have been arrested by the authorities for expressing their opinions about the novel coronavirus on Facebook. He said this action has made people fear about reporting the truth.

Mr Hun Sen during a press conference ... responded by saying: “Am Sam Ath of Licadho, you must be careful with what you say. [The statement] was not freedom of expression.”

“[The country] is not yet placed in a state of emergency, but I can have you arrested because you are complicit to illegal acts in Cambodia,” he added, ...

Mr Sam Ath, who is deputy director of the rights group, ... explained in a YouTube video his intention was not to support criminals...

“I support the government’s law enforcement measures and the authorities have correctly followed the law,” he said, adding he will cooperate with the government, calling on the public to unite and fight COVID-19...

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Mr Sam Ath’s clarification video on YouTube is welcomed...

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, ... said the government must protect human rights in the Kingdom, including by shielding human rights defenders ...

“The threat of arrest against [Mr Sam Ath] for promoting respect to the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as enshrined in both domestic and international legislation, is extremely troubling,” Ms Sopheap said...

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: PM warns senior NGO staff of arrest over his comments on govt.'s aggressive measures to arrest & educate online users over fake news on Covid-19 pandemic

Author: Narim Khuon, Khmer Times

"Hun Sen blasts rights defender over comments", 31 March 2020

Prime Minister Hun Sen has criticised Licadho’s Am Sam Ath over statements the latter made about security measures the government has taken amid COVID-19 fears.

Mr Sam Ath ... stated over 24 people have been arrested by the authorities for expressing their opinions about the novel coronavirus on Facebook. He said this action has made people fear about reporting the truth.

Mr Hun Sen during a press conference ... responded by saying: “Am Sam Ath of Licadho, you must be careful with what you say. [The statement] was not freedom of expression.”

“[The country] is not yet placed in a state of emergency, but I can have you arrested because you are complicit to illegal acts in Cambodia,” he added, ...

Mr Sam Ath, who is deputy director of the rights group, ... explained in a YouTube video his intention was not to support criminals...

“I support the government’s law enforcement measures and the authorities have correctly followed the law,” he said, adding he will cooperate with the government, calling on the public to unite and fight COVID-19...

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Mr Sam Ath’s clarification video on YouTube is welcomed...

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, ... said the government must protect human rights in the Kingdom, including by shielding human rights defenders ...

“The threat of arrest against [Mr Sam Ath] for promoting respect to the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as enshrined in both domestic and international legislation, is extremely troubling,” Ms Sopheap said...

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: PM warns senior NGO staff of arrest over his comments on govt.'s aggressive measures to arrest & educate online users over fake news on Covid-19 pandemic

Author: Narim Khuon, Khmer Times

"Hun Sen blasts rights defender over comments", 31 March 2020

Prime Minister Hun Sen has criticised Licadho’s Am Sam Ath over statements the latter made about security measures the government has taken amid COVID-19 fears.

Mr Sam Ath ... stated over 24 people have been arrested by the authorities for expressing their opinions about the novel coronavirus on Facebook. He said this action has made people fear about reporting the truth.

Mr Hun Sen during a press conference ... responded by saying: “Am Sam Ath of Licadho, you must be careful with what you say. [The statement] was not freedom of expression.”

“[The country] is not yet placed in a state of emergency, but I can have you arrested because you are complicit to illegal acts in Cambodia,” he added, ...

Mr Sam Ath, who is deputy director of the rights group, ... explained in a YouTube video his intention was not to support criminals...

“I support the government’s law enforcement measures and the authorities have correctly followed the law,” he said, adding he will cooperate with the government, calling on the public to unite and fight COVID-19...

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Mr Sam Ath’s clarification video on YouTube is welcomed...

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, ... said the government must protect human rights in the Kingdom, including by shielding human rights defenders ...

“The threat of arrest against [Mr Sam Ath] for promoting respect to the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as enshrined in both domestic and international legislation, is extremely troubling,” Ms Sopheap said...

Read the full post here