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Thursday, September 29, 2011

UN expert says Cambodia rights progress a 'mixed bag'

GENEVA — Despite significant human rights progress in Cambodia, freedom of expression has worsened, a UN expert told AFP, describing the situation as "a mixed bag".

"In some areas there has been some improvement, whereas in some areas things have regressed a bit," the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi said.

"So it's a mixed bag," he said.

While praising the government's decision to reconsider a controversial draft law on civil society bodies, he said "freedom of expression and harassment of civil society representatives, lawyers and people belonging to the opposition has worsened."
The problem, he said, was a "harsher, less liberal interpretation and application of the law" by judges and prosecutors.

"The law, as it stands today, makes defamation, disinformation and falsification of information criminal offences," Subedi said, explaining that these offences should be decriminalized.

He gave the example of a UN staff member who was jailed for six months, "for merely printing information from the internet and sharing it with her colleagues".

The laws are also impacting policymaking, Subedi said.

"When an MP criticizes a government policy ... that MP has to be very careful with the words that they use, whether that will amount to a criticism of the prime minister, or ministers, because that could be construed as defamation," the rapporteur explained.

Subedi however praised the government's decision to reconsider a controversial law which would require any civil society organisation, including NGOs, to register with the government and notify authorities of its activities.

"This law has been sent back to the minister of the interior. And they are reconsidering it, which is a good indication.

"They could have pushed it through parliament, which they didn't," Subedi noted.

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