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
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...

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Article
3 April 2020

Cambodia: Rights group concerns over govt.'s aggressive measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic; while minority groups face discrimination

Author: Jillian Louis, The ASEAN Post

"COVID-19 and Cambodia’s human rights concerns", 2 April 2020

…, Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, 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.

… Hun Sen called for citizens not to discriminate against the Chinese, as the country hosts many Chinese investors and tourists. “There is no one who died, and not a single Cambodian contracting the virus, it happened only to a Chinese man," he reassured. 

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported 17 arrests made since late January for sharing information about the coronavirus in Cambodia... A 14-year-old girl who expressed fears on social media about rumours of positive COVID-19 cases at her school was also arrested and questioned. 12 of those arrested have so far been released from detention after signing pledges to not spread “fake news” in the future and to apologise…

As of 1 April, 2020, Cambodia has a total of 109 COVID-19 cases – 49 locals and 60 foreigners – with zero deaths reported. Like all the 203 countries affected by the outbreak – excluding China – cases of COVID-19 started with imports which then led to local transmissions…

Human rights issues should be dealt with immediately by the Cambodian government; clearing the air of any blame or prejudice for the outbreak against any one group. The crisis that the entire global community is currently facing is indiscriminatory in nature, possessing the potential to wreak further chaos and disruptions in our socio-economic environment without systematic efforts by governments to contain it. 

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Article
24 March 2020

Cambodia: HRW reports that authorities arrest 17 people related to spreading fake news on the Covid-19 & urges authorities to guarantee freedom of expression for Cambodians

Author: Human Rights Watch

"Cambodia: COVID-19 Clampdown on Free Speech", 24 March 2020

Cambodian authorities should stop arresting people for expressing concerns about COVID-19’s impact in Cambodia and claiming they are spreading so-called “fake news,” Human Rights Watch said…

Human Rights Watch has documented the arrests of 17 people … for sharing information about the coronavirus in Cambodia… Twelve were released from detention after signing pledges to not spread “fake news” in the future and to apologize.

“The Cambodian government is misusing the COVID-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government’s response,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should stop abusing people’s free speech rights and instead focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.”…

In a … speech, Hun Sen directly threatened to arrest Long Phary,... Phnom Penh police arrested him … and told him the arrest stemmed from a phone conversation in which Long Phary discussed rumors about the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The government did not say how it learned about the contents of a private phone call, but in the past, the government has engaged in unauthorized phone tapping of civil society activists…

Under international human rights law, the Cambodian government has an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds. Governments are responsible for providing information necessary for protecting and promoting rights, including the right to health...

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