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Cambodian Civil Society Groups Protest Against NGO Draft Law

Cambodian human rights and land activists holding a banner that reads "Say NO! Union, Association & NGO Laws" during a protest in front of the National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, June 28, 2015. (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

Cambodian officials are warning civil society groups not to stage protest marches against a draft law to regulate non-governmental organizations.

The groups are planning to gather on four main boulevards in Phnom Penh Tuesday to end three days of activities against the NGO measure.

Am Sam Ath, chief of technical investigation for the rights group Licadho told VOA Monday that civil society groups didn’t ask for permission from city hall to march Tuesday because the government would have turned them down.

Long Dimanche, a spokesman for city hall said the Phnom Penh government will use all resources to prevent and curb the parades.

“We see this is an aspect which would have been arranged by somebody. We will use all measures to prevent and crackdown on the demonstrations, expression of opinion, and marches that have no legal permission,” he said.

The NGOs and rights groups say the bill, which is being debated by parliament and is supported by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, is unnecessary and will potentially hamper the work of thousands of NGOs in the country, while acting as a tool to curtail government criticism.

Am Sam Ath said human rights groups and other partners have already joined the so-far peaceful demonstrations, including the launching of balloons with protest messages on Monday.

“At Licadho offices in both Phnom Penh and the provinces, we flew balloons [Monday] showing messages [against the NGO law] and some partner organizations in the provinces also took part. There were a lot of national and international organizations taking part in the balloon flying,” he said.

Separately, Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) told reporters Monday that Hun Sen told him civil society groups should not be too concerned by the new NGO law.

“The prime minister confirmed to me that civil society groups should not worry too much. Civil organizations that are in operation are not required to re-register. They will be automatically recognized,” he said.

But he added that the parliament will still consider requests asking for the cancellation of this law.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador William Todd wrote a blog post in which he called on Cambodian officials to work together to ensure that the law, if passed, will not restrict civil society nor suppress the freedoms of expression and assembly.

A series of protests took place this month after the draft law was approved by the parliament’s permanent committee.

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

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