Controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties have been signed into law by acting head of state Say Chhum.
The amendments, made official on Friday, bar parties from maintaining any link to anyone with a criminal conviction. Critics say they are aimed at isolating former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
They came into force despite criticism internationally and from civil society nationally.
The changes were signed into law by the president of the Senate as acting head of state while King Norodom Sihamoni was out of the country for a medical check-up.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights was among 19 civil organisations that released a joint statement expressing deep concern about the amendments, which were passed by the National Assembly and endorsed by the Constitutional Council on July 25.
“We are deeply concerned that the exceptionally broad and overreaching power granted to the Royal Government of Cambodia under the proposed amendment would subvert Cambodian democracy, and violate multiple provisions of the constitution,” the statement said. “We are gravely concerned about the outlook for Cambodian democracy.
“This proposed amendment is the latest in a series of restrictive laws which unjustifiably restrict Cambodian’ rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed the statement as biased toward opposition parties.
“Signatures of CPP lawmakers are not made to satisfy independent analysts,” he said. “The purpose of this law is to serve all political parties in Cambodian society.”
Mr Rainsy posted on Friday before the law was signed that from this week anyone who dared show a picture of him with CNRP president Kem Sokha would be punished.
“But would a photo of me with the three CPP leaders Say Chhum, Hun Sen and Sar Kheng beside me also cause the same trouble?” he asked.
CNRP president Kem Sokha told a grassroots meeting on Saturday at Prey Veng province’s Svay Anthor district that the party had chosen the correct strategy and non-violent action plan “because we want to win or lose by honour and maintain the interests of citizens and the nation”.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said the law restricted citizens’ freedom of expression.
“This law has restricted the right of expression because prisoners have lost the right to express their opinions,” Mr Kuntheamy said.