The Cambodia National Assembly on 30 August 2006 adopted a law that will restrict its members from expressing opinions freely during the exercise of their duty.
Article 5 of the Statute on the Ethics of Members of Parliament stipulates that they can be prosecuted for comments that violate an individual’s dignity, social customs, public order and national security.
This clearly contradicts article 80 of the Cambodian Constitution, which states that no member shall be prosecuted, detained or arrested because of opinions expressed during the excercise of his or her duties, unless permitted by the assembly.
Foreign diplomats, embassy representatives, non-governmental organizations and the public in general have expressed concern over this law, calling it a setback for freedom of expression and speech and, in particular, the democratization process of the country.
Some non-governmental organizations believe this law is intended to silence criticism of government policies or actions.
The law has ramifications for journalists as well. The Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) is concerned that, if even Members of Parliament cannot be protected in the course of their duty as representatives of the people, what more journalists, who also give voice to the people?
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights has issued a statement calling the new law unconstitutional. It said the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) has joined in to request a review of the law by the Constitutional Council. “Since a review requires a 10% mandate of the national assembly and SRP has enough members there, the Constitutional Council must, by law, review and make its judgment,” said the NGO.