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Campuses ‘Reminded’ of Ban on Political Activities

James Reddick and Srey Kumneth / Khmer Times Share:
Students at the Royal University Phnom Penh study together. Photo: Judith Bluepool

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The Ministry of Education issued a directive on Tuesday banning any political organizing and activism on school campuses, including universities.

Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said that the directive is a reminder to teachers and students of the 2007 Education Law, which banned “political activities and/or propaganda for any political party in educational establishments.”

“We try to remind them of the law so that all the teachers and especially the students can focus on learning and teaching,” Mr. Salin said. “For political activities, they can do it outside school.”

Fines, Widening Scope

Institutions found to be home to political organizing can be fined $5,000, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Whereas the Education Law only addresses political expression briefly, Tuesday’s directive was broader in scope when outlining banned activities.  

“In the past, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports had observed that at both public and private academic institutions, there were a number of associations, organizations, education staff and teachers engaged in irregular activities, such as establishing branches at those schools,” an excerpt from the directive published in Xinhua read.

When asked, Mr. Salin would not provide specific examples of political activity on campuses that has caught the government’s attention. He said the ministry contacts violators of the law by letter.

“Sometimes they forget the law,” he said. “We alert them but it doesn’t happen often.”

Kem Ley, a researcher  and founder of the Khmer for Khmer movement, called the directive another sign that the government wants to go back to the 1980s, when political repression was the norm.

Moving Backwards

“It seems like the government is trying to move the country back to the communist era,” he said. “If they consider the country democratic, then they must allow people to talk about politics.”

Mr. Ley calls the directive “discrimination,” as it is unlikely to restrict the activities of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC), which is widely known to be the Cambodian People’s Party’s youth wing. The UYFC, which is run by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Many, operates freely on school campuses.

On the campus of the Royal University in Phnom Penh, students were unconcerned about the law.

“I think it’s good to keep politics out of the classroom,” said one first year biology student who requested anonymity. She says that people her age are free to discuss politics outside of class, but rarely do.

A medical student, who also requested anonymity, said that he was not afraid of being punished for his political views. He is not interested in joining any political clubs, but he thinks they should be allowed.

“We should know about our politics and our society,” he said. “During class, we shouldn’t talk about it. But outside, we should.”

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