Contributors: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth

October 24, 2014

An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

On October 10, a coalition of international groups (Forum Asia, Asia Democracy Network, Civicus, Cooperation Committee for Cambodia’s Beyond 2015 initiative, Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), International Forum of National NGO Platforms (IFP), and South East Asian Community for Advocacy (Seaca)) told a news conference that the five laws being drafted by government ministries dealing with farmland, cybercrime, telecommunications, nongovernmental organizations, and trade unions – added to three laws passed in early 2014 that undermine the independence of the courts – would restrict free speech and other basic rights in Cambodia.

Before the draft laws will be voted upon by the National Assembly’s 68 CPP lawmakers and 55 CNRP lawmakers, the groups called for their dissemination for public input.

Cambodian democrats everywhere must express their views. Now!

I urge Cambodian political activists to apply the process about which I’ve written in the past – SMART – to develop a strategic plan to confront, modify, or obstruct these and other pending items of legislation that threaten further diminution of Cambodians’ civil rights.  Goals must be SMART: S = specific, as in blocking or amending the draft cybercrime law; M = measurable, as in examining the international covenants on human rights and Article 28 of the draft cybercrime law; A = achievable, as in what is realistic and possible to uphold or amend; R = relevant, as in why the draft law matters, what it does to Cambodia’s Constitution; T = time-bound, as in creating a timeframe to reach the goal.

Goals not tied to specific timeframes are ineffective.

For “self-enrichment” and “maintaining of power at all costs”

My last article dealt with British lawyer Richard J. Rogers’s complaint filed at the International Criminal Court on October 7 against Cambodia’s “Ruling Elite.”

To recall, Rogers alleged the Ruling Elite have used state “legal and security systems” to quell not just Cambodians who oppose their land grabbing for self-enrichment, but also to quell “civil society leaders, monks, journalists, lawyers, environmental activists, trade unionists, civilian protesters, and opposition politicians” who are seen as threats to their preservation of power “at all costs” in a “widespread or systematic attack,” and “pursuant to a State policy.”

Last month, National Assembly President HengSamrin of the Cambodian People’s Party, demonstrated his regime’s disregard for transparency and democracy. On Sept 12, HengSamrin, a Communist product of the Cold War, issued a circular forbidding citizens and media representatives from attending public hearings of the Assembly’s commissions – five of which are led by the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Civil society organizations could not even submit letters to the attention of all 123 lawmakers. On Oct 2, they called for the suspension of the circular.

As Kwak No-hyun of Forum Asia told the conference, should the “eight laws” be implemented in their present forms, they “will restrict the space for dissenting voices and criminalize demands for justice.”

Cambodia’s legally-binding commitment

Of the 13 human rights international instruments acceded or ratified by Cambodia, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed in 1980 and acceded (ratified) in 1992. In 1993, Cambodia incorporated the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights into her Constitution, the supreme law of the land.

In accepting international treaties Cambodia commits herself to be bound legally to carry out the stipulations therein for everyone’s benefit in the country.

Free expression

UDHR Article 1 recognizes “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”; Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”; Article 20, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

These stipulations are also enshrined in the ICCPR in Article 18 and 19 in particular.

In Cambodia’s Constitution, Article 31 stipulates: “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.” In Article 41: “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publications and assembly. No one shall exercise this right to infringe upon the rights of others, to affect the good traditions of the society, to violate public law and order and national security.”

Crushing free expression

“Freedom of expression is essential for democracy,” declared Consuelo Katrina A. Lopa, who represented Asia Democracy Network and Seaca at the conference. “(B)ut these telecom and cyber bills could be used to jail and bankrupt citizens whose comments on social media are critical of the government,” Lopa said.

In May 2012, the government announced it was drafting a “Cybercrime Law.” But Cambodians were already outraged at the alleged “Cyber War Room” led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s second son, Hun Manet, 37 years old on Oct 20, the first Cambodian to have graduated at the United States Military Academy in May 1999.

The CWR worked to identify and investigate those who posted comments on various internet sites.  Eventually, the previously secret list of Hun Manet’s CWR staff was posted online.

In 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government was accused of “ordering” internet service providers to block critical websites, including KI-Media, Khmerization, and political cartoonist Sacrava.

In April 2014, a British-based freedom of expression advocacy group called “Article 19” – the name taken from Article 19 of the UDHR – which adheres to the principle that “people everywhere must be able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information. Without these rights, democracy, good governance and development cannot happen,” posted the “Cybercrime Law” online.

Chapter 4 of the draft deals with “offenses” punishable up to three years in prison and fines of $500-$1,500 “for harm of national integrity or sovereignty,” a vague charge.

Article 28 deals with “Contents and Websites” – “deemed” to hinder the country’s “sovereignty and integrity”; publications “deemed” to “incite or instigate” the population towards “anarchism”; to generate “insecurity, instability …”; to be “non-factual which slanders and undermines” local and federal levels of government; and deemed “damaging to the moral and cultural values of the society”; publicizing with intent to “threaten and commit a crime”…

Three to 4 million Cambodians (in a population of 15 million) use the internet, most via mobile phones.

A 14-member “National Anti-Cybercrime Committee” – the “judicial police” – chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, determines violations of the law.

Government adviser on information and technology LeewoodPhu reportedly charged that the draft Cybercrime Law has had no input from the public; since Cambodia already has a Criminal Code in place, “why are we trying to invent a new wheel?”

IT criminals turned IT policemen

As Cambodians in coffee shops and in the streets in Phnom Penh and the provinces speak openly for change, the Ruling Elite have turned to any venue to preserve power: Convicted IT criminals are turned into paid IT “policemen” to fight cybercrime in collusion with Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Department (which worked with the FBI to arrest them after they had hacked some 30 government websites).

Two hacktivists of Anonymous Cambodia, Bun King Mongkolpanha, 21, and Chou Songheng, 20, arrested and jailed in April for computer hacking (IT offenses under the Criminal Code), and sentenced to two years in prison, were released on Oct 1. Internal Security Department chief DyVichea, son-in-law of Premier Hun Sen and son of former police chief Hok Lundy, had reportedly requested that the pair be given government positions.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights has called on the National Assembly to make public all draft laws and allow civil society time to provide feedback.


The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.

About the Author:

Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. He currently lives in the United States. He can be reached at


Document ID :AHRC-ETC-022-2014
Countries : Cambodia
Date : 24-10-2014