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Cambodian Groups Petition Against Draft NGO Law

FILE - Cambodian NGO workers hold a cut-outs of threatened species during protests in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sept. 11, 2014.

A group of 300 Cambodian pro-democracy and rights organizations and their supporters have delivered a petition to the National Assembly calling for lawmakers to reject a draft law to regulate non-governmental organizations [NGOs].

Opponents say the bill is unnecessary and will potentially hamper the work of thousands of NGOs in the country, while acting as a tool to curtail government criticism.

Outside the National Assembly on Tuesday, opponents of the law marched with loudspeakers and banners that said, “Stop” and “Say No.”

Mi Sovann, who is employed by a local NGO, said almost everyone from his organization had joined the protest.

“I am sure a number of NGOs would shut down and their staffers would lose their jobs if the law is adopted. And as the result, assistance from foreign donors would be restricted or cut," he said.

Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party [CNRP], accepted the petition outside the assembly, promising that he and his party members are working to prevent passage of the law.

“I think it draw more attention than before when bills, which concern the public, were sent from the executive body to national assembly and usually urgently passed without consultation. But this time, different. I believed that CNRP will be consulted," he said.

Inside, the assembly’s standing committee already was discussing the draft law before sending it to a special committee for review.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] has said it likely will pass the bill, which has been championed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. But CPP lawmaker Chheang Von told VOA Khmer he plans to make sure the draft is put through public consultation before sending it to the full assembly for debate.

According to the draft law obtained by VOA, the legislation, if ratified, will require all local associations and NGOs to register at the Ministry of Interior and international NGOs to register at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, all organizations will be required to submit their work progress and financial reports regularly.

Article 25 and 30 of the law states that any organization will be erased from the registration list if it fails to report to the ministries.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.