Prominent Government Critic Kem Ley killed

On 10th July, prominent political opposition activist Kem Ley was gunned down in Phnom Penh. As an outspoken critic of the government and grassroots organiser, Ley’s death comes at a time of heightened tension between the government and political opposition, with civil society and the political opposition reporting a continued crackdown by authorities on their activities. Investigations into Ley’s death are ongoing

Freedom of association

On 23rd May, 6 people, including a UN employee and human rights defenders from prominent local organisation, ADHOC (Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association) were imprisoned on spurious charges. Authorities allege they were involved in a bribery case relating to a recent sex scandal involving a deputy opposition leader. Local groups fear that these arrests are politically motivated and designed to stifle critical and independent dissent. In the wake of this crackdown, government agencies stated that the recently adopted NGO Law may be used to target prominent human rights groups. There is growing concern that civil society organisations taking a political stance against the government might be forced to dissolve. On 17th May, the new Trade Union Law was approved by the King, having been passed by the National Assembly despite widespread opposition from trade unions and criticism from the International Labour Organisation that the law falls short of international labour standards. The law makes it more difficult for unions to form and register and introduces burdensome reporting requirements. Some fear this law is part of a broader crackdown on associational rights in Cambodia.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Cambodia has recently experienced a wave of protests. The ‘Black Monday Campaign’ began with an attempted march to Prey Sar Prison demanding the release of these five detainees on 9th May 2016. Weekly Black Monday protests were attempted throughout May by civil society groups after authorities arrested staff members of human rights group ADHOC. The protests were met with a heavily-armed police presence, preventing the protest from taking place. During the protests, the authorities pre-emptively arrested four NGO staff, and two foreign consultants. All were detained and questioned for several hours. Before being released, the local NGO workers were compelled to sign guarantees to confirm they would not take part in future protests. In all, 25 peaceful protestors were arrested during the campaign. In a separate development, government officials detained two environmentalists protesting against sand dredging in Koh Kong province.

Freedom of Expression

The pending Cybercrime Law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in Cambodia by granting the government broader powers to silence critics. These amendments come at a time when the authorities have targetted social media users for expressing dissent. Since August 2015, 24 people have been threatened, seven people arrested and one person jailed for comments made online. People even need permission from relevant authorities before posting pictures of the recent Black Monday protests on social media. Recently, a government spokesperson branded CCHR (Cambodian Centre for Human Rights) a criminal outfit while presenting a political analysis on the situation in Koh Kong province. This comes at a time when the government increasingly believes that only the judiciary should be able to criticise the government.