Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cambodia passes law banning big demonstrations

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Wed Oct 21, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's parliament approved a new law on Wednesday banning demonstrations of more than 200 people, sparking fresh concerns the government is trying to silence dissenting voices.

Lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) said the new legislation would ensure security and help maintain public order, but the opposition dismissed the law as another attempt to stifle freedom of expression.

"This law is nothing more than just a ban on protests against this government," said Yim Sovann, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, the main opposition.

"How does this law provide freedom for the people, when you have thousands of protestors who want to hold demonstrations but are not allowed?" he added.

The law also requires groups to seek permission five days in advance of planned demonstrations.

Mass rallies in Cambodia have been harshly dealt with in the past but are now rare as the country enjoys an unprecedented period of political and economic stability after decades of brutal civil war.

In contrast, mass protests since 2006 in neighbouring Thailand have helped topple two elected governments, triggering street riots, security crackdowns, a coup and an airport seizure, which has spooked investors and prompted credit ratings downgrades.


The new law on protests follows recent tightening of Cambodia's defamation laws after a series of court cases brought against opponents of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and his powerful associates.

Parliamentarians from the CPP have defended the defamation laws, which it said "protected the dignity and reputation" of the country's leaders.

Analysts say there is currently little threat to Hun Sen or his party, which won 73 percent of the vote in elections last year as a result of double-digit economic growth, increased public spending and better unemployment opportunities.

However, opponents and rights groups accuse the CPP of trying to tighten their grip by using legal means to muzzle detractors.

"You cannot criticise government institutions because you could be held accountable for defaming them," said Ou Vireak, head of the U.S.-funded Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

"Because of that, it will create a lot of fear among the general public."

(Editing by Martin Petty and Bill Tarrant)
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