Cambodia Opposition Party Proposes FOI Legislation

30 December 2010

The opposition party in Cambodia has proposed freedom of information legislation, but is pessimistic about its chances, according to an article from the Phnom Penh Post.

The Sam Rainsy Party Dec. 23 sent a draft FOI law to the National Assembly for consideration. SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the law would require officials to make available documents that are routinely withheld from opposition party members and others trying to monitor the actions of the government. But a party spokesman told the Post that he was pessimistic about the ruling party’s willingness to adopt such legislation. 

“The ruling party has no political will to build a democratic society,” spokesman Yim Sovann said. “Corruption is the pillar of the ruling party.”

The same Post article, by Brooke Lewis, focused primarily on a report released by the rights group Licadho titled “Freedom of Expression in Cambodia: The Illusion of Democracy,” that outlines nearly 50 case studies from April 1 to September 30 that the authors claim involve “violations of expressive rights.”

The report details government threats to expel foreign diplomats, the prosecution of several opposition party members, the extortion of journalists, the prosecution of rights workers and the intimidation of residents involved in land disputes with government-backed private companies.

“The ruling elite have consolidated power and harnessed it for their benefit – and the benefits have been lavish,” the report says. 

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Sovann said the Licadho report “reflects the reality of Cambodian society,” according to the Post. 

“Most people are concerned about recent human rights abuses; corruption is still a major problem and land rights are still a major problem,” he was quoted as saying. “All the time it is getting worse.”

“We cannot say Cambodia is a democratic country while we have limited access to information,” he said. “If we want a democratic society we need transparency in everything.”

Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, was quoted in the same report as saying that a healthy media presence in Cambodia was proof that democracy and freedom of expression were “blooming.”

On Nov. 16, the Post reported that about  100 journalists from 21 news outlets across Cambodia met in Phnom Penh Nov. 15  and urged the government to adopt a policy on freedom of information.

Lam Socheat, deputy director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, was quoted as saying that said that during the consultative meeting in March 2006, the government promised to develop a clear policy framework for a freedom of information law that year.

Thach Pen, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, confirmed that the policy had already been developed but was still under review.

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