The CPP’s 68 lawmakers unanimously pushed a controversial NGO law through the National Assembly on Monday morning without debate and without the opposition, whose 55 members boycotted the session in protest over legislation they say the government will use to stifle dissent.
The U.S., U.N. and European Union have joined hundreds of local and international NGOs in opposing the law, which would force all non-government groups to register with the state and gives ministries the power to shut down organizations on vague grounds. They have branded the law unconstitutional, and fear the government will wield its new powers against its critics.
The version the lawmakers voted on did make a few concessions to the critics. An article that would have barred anyone whose NGO application was rejected from ever applying again was removed. It also reduced the minimum number of founding members a group is required to have from five to three. But the rest of the most contentious articles—including one that will let the government shutter organizations deemed to be jeopardizing Cambodian tradition—survived largely intact.
The CPP has argued that the law is a necessary defense against international money laundering and terrorist groups aiming to funnel their funds into Cambodia via NGOs, though opponents say the country already has laws to combat both.
Before voting started on Monday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said NGOs did not need to worry that their freedom of expression would be restricted.
CPP lawmaker Lork Kheng, however, suggested that the law would be used against groups who spread false information.
“I completely support this law because we can see, and I have seen video footage of this, that there are NGOs that have caused serious problems for the country. Like in 2013, there were some NGOs that made false allegations about indelible ink for voting,” she said.
Conflicting reports emerged on election day in 2013 about whether the ink being used to mark the fingers of voters could be washed off, allowing voters to cast numerous ballots.
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