UN human rights experts yesterday issued a statement highlighting concerns regarding political and fundamental rights of government critics while reiterating a call on the government to create a culture of dialogue that focuses on issues rather than people.
Last month, dozens of former officials of the court-dissolved CNRP were summoned to be questioned by Battambang Provincial Court over Facebook posts and meetings held to express support for the nomination of Sam Rainsy as acting CNRP president.
The statement, penned by Special Rapporteurs Rhona Smith and David Kaye, said “according to information received, more than 140 members of the former CNRP have been questioned by the authorities, summoned or detained in relation to attendance at gatherings and comments made in support of […] former [CNRP] leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy.”
It said Ms Smith and Mr Kaye were concerned that this is “an escalating trend of suppression by the government toward dissenting opinions”.
“We are concerned about the use of criminal law to target free speech, both offline and online,” the experts said in the statement. “Restrictions on freedom of expression must be limited and strictly defined and statements of support for political leaders do not fall within such permitted limitations.”
They noted in the statement restrictions on freedom of expression or assembly must be narrowly defined and be based on the law.
Ms Smith and Mr Kaye said former opposition party members summoned by the court must have the right to due process and a fair trial.
They said that the former members must have “equality of arms and the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of one’s defence, including access to appropriate information”.
“We call on the government to reverse the current downward trend in enjoyment of political rights and fundamental freedoms,” they said.
The UN experts also called on the government to focus on changing the political culture to one of dialogue that focuses on issues rather than people.
“It is time the government leads a change of the political culture to one of dialogue with a focus on issues rather than people, as a way to move ahead and to create a solid basis for durable peace, sustainable development and the enjoyment of all human rights,” they said.
The statement was issued after Ms Smith’s visit to the Kingdom in April. She was in the Kingdom from April 29 to May 9 to follow up on the human rights situation in the country.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday dismissed the UN statement, saying that the government had done enough to ensure political rights and freedom of expression.
“I’m disappointed that the UN experts did not acknowledge the progress and efforts that the government has made in ensuring peace and political stability,” Mr Siphan said, noting that the Supreme Consultative Council is composed of members from dozens of opposition parties.
He said the SCC is playing a vital role in challenging the ruling party regarding politics and social development.
“CNRP was dissolved – no need to mention them,” he said. “Some of them disrespected the law so the government must take action based on the law.”
“The UN experts must follow Cambodian laws,” Mr Siphan added.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath yesterday said Mr Siphan should not have dismissed the statement.