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29 Sep 2022


Cambodia: Human rights defenders and journalists punished by controversial Law on COVID-19

"A Legal Brief on Cambodia’s Covid-19 Law Used to Persecute Human Rights Defenders and Other Activists", 29 September 2022

The Covid-19 Law, officially titled the Law on Preventive Measures Against the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases, was hurriedly passed … without consultation with civil society and other stakeholders, and took immediate effect. The law, reinforced by two hastily drafted sub-decrees on health and administrative measures, grants the government extraordinarily broad powers and discretion to significantly interfere with fundamental social, political and economic rights. There are inadequate provisions for independent oversight of authorities’ measures, and a lack of meaningful limits on the duration and scope of oppressive restrictions…

Local and international stakeholders immediately raised concerns regarding the potential for abuse written into the poorly drafted law, noting mandatory and excessive prison sentences and fines for violating administrative measures and other ambiguously-worded offences.

Concerns about the Covid-19 Law were quickly realised when it was immediately used to authorise sweeping restrictions, including repressive lockdowns and the arrests of journalists and other public critics of the government’s Covid-19 response. Employed measures created disproportionate and unnecessary restrictions on the rights to freedom of movement, peaceful assembly, association and expression. The UN Secretary-General’s … report to the UN Human Rights Council stated that at least 729 people were arrested under the Covid-19 Law between mid-April and end of May 2021, and more than 100 were detained, figures the Cambodian government disputes…, as case numbers began to decline, the law was strategically used against land rights demonstrators and labour rights activists, among other human rights defenders.