Cambodia: Government criminalises criticism and opposition

Cambodia: Government criminalises criticism and opposition - Civic Space

Photo by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.


ARTICLE 19 made this oral statement during the Item 10 Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia at the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

ARTICLE 19 thanks the Special Rapporteur for his oral update. We once again address this Council regarding our mounting concerns for fundamental freedoms in Cambodia. The Cambodian government continues to show blatant disregard for freedom of expression, information, assembly and association. Digital rights face increasing threats of surveillance and censorship, and press freedom is being systematically eroded to leave only a pro-government narrative.

While implementation of the National Internet Gateway—which was termed “repressive” by three UN Special Rapporteurs—has been delayed, authorities show no sign of discarding the law. The NIG development process has been plagued with a lack of transparency, and civil society remain in the dark as to the technical infrastructure of the NIG and its real-life implications for everyday internet users.

Cambodian authorities continue to prosecute journalists as a means of controlling the media narrative. In 2021, 32 journalists were arrested, 93 were harassed, and 18 experienced violence or assault.

Media outlets also face interference from the government. This month alone, Cambodia has revoked the licenses of three media outlets who had been reporting on corruption. The Ministry of Information justified the revocations, claiming that the outlets had disseminated information that violated journalistic ethics and breached their contracts with the Ministry. Media license granting and revocation is under the sole authority of the Ministry of Information and is undertaken with a lack of transparency or independent oversight.

In 2021 there was a demonstrable increase in authorities’ use of excessive force to disperse peaceful protests and arrest protesters, with 18% of assemblies experiencing violent interference. Of great alarm is the reports of sexual assault by police at the recent NagaWorld protests.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the government’s continued efforts to stifle political expression and stem political plurality ahead of this year’s commune elections. This month Cambodia made its second round of mass convictions of opposition politicians and activists for alleged incitement and conspiracy. Reports of one opposition party being erroneously denied registration and another opposition party having all of its candidates disqualified in one commune, illustrate the ruling party’s continued intolerance for expression in support of political opposition parties.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Cambodian government to do more to respect and protect fundamental freedoms, and to foster an enabling environment for freedom of expression including criticism and opposition which are key to achieving an effective democracy.

Given that the human rights crackdown shows no signs of relenting, we seriously question whether Item 10 is a suitable avenue to discuss the situation in Cambodia.


(Italics denotes text not read during oral statement.)