NGO Law Restricts Election Observers’ Activities: Monitor

Election observers working for NGOs are treading more carefully in their monitoring activities because of a controversial law on NGOs passed nearly two years ago, said Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), during an interview with The Cambodia Daily on Thursday.

—Commune Election 2017—

The Law on Associations and NGOs was enacted in 2015 despite widespread concern that new restrictions would pressure organizations to sanitize their operations in order to stay open.

National Election Committee chairman Sik Bunhok speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh last year. (Khem Sovannara)

Mr. Kuntheamy said the threat of being heavily fined or shut down if observers were accused of breaking monitoring rules had affected NGOs.

“The nongovernmental organization law made it hard for NGOs to do the work because in this law, if the observers are reckless and…make mistakes, [NGOs] will be punished, unlike the previous law,” he said.

The observers themselves also face heavy fines, he added, making it hard to recruit.

“Even the volunteers, they have to be careful as well…. If something goes wrong, they will be fined a lot of money,” he said by telephone later on Thursday. “They’re scared…. We see the effect on their work.”

Kim Chhorn, senior program coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said his NGO would assess the situation “in case of…legal harassment,” but he had yet to observe any direct effects of the law on monitors’ work.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea acknowledged that NGOs and individuals could face fines “if they commit activities like…showing biases toward political parties [and] interruption that affects the elections.”

(Additional reporting by Phan Soumy and Chhorn Phearun)

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