7 June 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Cambodian officials have been reconsidering the vitality of access to information to a free society, with influential personalities suggesting that too much accessible information could breed terrorism and pose a threat to state security.
“Please check all the aspects of enlarging freedom of access to public information. Terrorists also need information,” Om Yentieng, an advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen told a gathering of government officials and representatives of local and international aid and development organisations in Phnom Penh on 6 June.
His remark, quoted by an English-language daily, “Cambodia Daily” in its 7 June edition, would seem to undermine the government’s promise to pass a law on access to information. That promise was made at a donors’ meeting for Cambodia in 2004. Under pressure from donor countries that had become impatient with the level of corruption in Cambodia, the government also pledged to pass a long-delayed anti-corruption law in late 2005, before adopting a freedom of information act in 2006.
On Monday, Om Yentieng said public access to information could undermine national security, infringe on individual privacy and violate the internal workings of private companies.
While Om Yentieng’s opinions are not necessarily official policy, the sentiments of the influential advisor nonetheless bodes ill for an already vulnerable 1995 Press Law.
Article 5 of the Press Law guarantees Cambodians the right to access to information, including official records, except for such information that can cause harm to national security, damage relations with other countries, and endanger public officials carrying out the law or their duties.
Human rights groups and local press associations have criticized the vaguely-defined terms. They fear that the wording leaves the government much room to interpret and manipulate the law, and thereby cause journalists to excessively exercise self-censorship.
They also note a lack of penalties for government officials and institutions who refuse to grant journalists and citizens access to public information. Many journalists complain that the law has helped little in compelling officials to release or discuss public documents.