Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Rights group criticises spate of CPP lawsuits

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Christopher Shay And Meas SokChea

Use of criminal lawsuits is part of an attempt to eliminate the opposition, rights group says.

THE Cambodian People's Party has enlisted the judiciary in an effort to eliminate the Sam Rainsy Party, effectively ending multiparty democracy in Cambodia, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) claimed in a press release issued Monday.

The CPP-controlled government "is directly and systematically trying to dissolve the main opposition party by filing unfounded criminal lawsuits against its leaders", the press release said.

Ou Virak, president of the CCHR, told the Post on Monday that the government was targeting the pillars of a healthy democracy: lawyers, lawmakers and the media.

"If this trend continues, Cambodia will be controlled by a one-party state modelled after Vietnam and China," he said.

In recent months, government officials have filed criminal suits against opposition party president Sam Rainsy; SRP lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann; Kong Sam Onn, the two lawmakers' former lawyer; Hang Chakra, publisher of the SRP-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper; Dam Sith, the publisher of opposition newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer; and Neou Vannarin, a reporter at the Cambodia Daily who interviewed Ho Vann.

"They've consolidated power, and now they're trying to consolidate more power," Ou Virak said.

Puy Kea, a board member of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said Monday that he was attempting to lead a delegation to visit Hang Chakra, an opposition publisher who was recently sentenced to one year in prison. Puy Kea criticised the government for prosecuting Hang Chakra under the UNTAC-era criminal code as opposed to the more liberal Press Law.

"We do not want to see journalists imprisoned, so we would like to insist that the court and the government use the Press Law to resolve problems with journalists," he said.

Cambodian Confederation of Unions President Rong Chhun, who is also planning to visit Hang Chakra, said the jailing of journalists restricts basic freedoms necessary for a functioning democracy.

"Imprisoning journalists is eliminating the freedom of the press. They should use the Press Law, which was created with journalists," he said.

Government responds
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the CCHR's claims of an organised campaign to dissolve the SRP were "baseless", and that the government "does not want to see any journalists jailed".

He added: "We don't create obstacles to the free flow of ideas.."

Hang Chhaya, director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said the recent spike in lawsuits had "caught everyone by surprise".

Though he argued that Cambodian democracy was not in grave danger, he said: "It is not good to have newspapers close down. Cambodia is a democratic society, so we need to make sure there is freedom of expression."

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said that the CPP was using lawsuits as a way to threaten the SRP, but that efforts to shut down the Sam Rainsy Party would inevitably fail.

"They sue us. They want to silence our voices. They want to make us weak, but they cannot dissolve the party, and they will not have the only party," he said.

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