Cambodia: Parliament approves “state emergency” law amid the pandemic

Cambodia’s national assembly has approved a state emergency law on Friday, April 10 that will give the government powers to monitor communications, control media and prohibit or limit the distribution of information deemed to trigger public fear and damage national security. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the legislation which will further weaken press freedom and democratic rights in the country.

A man rides his food motor-cart past a barricade as police block motorists from passing at a checkpoint set up at the border between Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal province, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Phnom Penh on April 10, 2020. Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Prime Minister Hun Sen had indicated earlier that emergency powers would be called for to tackle the outbreak. As Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party holds every seat in the National Assembly, the law passed unanimously.

Hun Sen strongly defended the new legislation and rejected any criticism that the government was using the pandemic as an opportunity to enact the state of emergency law to silence people and abuse freedom of expression. In the case of a ‘rebellion’ or ‘overthrow of the government’, Hun Sen emphasized that authorities could still take stern measures, even without the ‘state of emergency’ law.

Cambodia’s government under Hun Sen is known for controlling the media and curtailing press freedom. IFJ’s South East Media Freedom Report 2019 revealed that media freedom in the country is ‘seriously declining’, with ongoing threats of arrest and detainment by authorities. A series of repressive policies have been blamed for the deterioration.

Cambodia had reported 122 positive cases of Covid-19, with no new cases for two consecutive days with zero death as of Tuesday, April 14.

The IFJ said: “Tackling the pandemic should in no way be used as a justification to further crackdown on human rights and media freedom in Cambodia.  The IFJ condemns the approval of the state of emergency legislation and calls on the government to protect the health of its citizens rather than violating democracy.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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