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UN rep Smith talks politics, prisons

UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith meets with Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday to discuss the dissolution of the CNRP and overcrowding in prisons.
UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith meets with Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday to discuss the dissolution of the CNRP and overcrowding in prisons. Sreng Meng Srun

UN rep Smith talks politics, prisons

UN special Rapporteur Rhona Smith on Monday met with Interior Minister Sar Kheng to discuss the dissolution of the CNRP and overcrowding in prisons, and with the Finance Ministry to raise concerns about the use of the Tax Department to target the media.

Smith is on a 10-day visit that follows the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha.

Phath Sophanith, a cabinet official at the Interior Ministry, said Smith raised the dissolution of the CNRP, which was initiated by a ministry complaint filed to the Supreme Court. She also brought up prison overcrowding as a result of an ongoing drug crackdown.

“Samdech [Sar Kheng] said that the dissolution is a result of the actions of the party itself that contradicted the law,” Sophanith said.

He added that Smith raised the issue of legislative changes, whereby the CNRP’s seats in the National Assembly and at the local levels were redistributed, and the implementation of the Law on Associations and NGOs, which has been used to more closely monitor and in some instances curb civil society activities.

“Samdech said that these laws did not restrict the rights of people,” Sophanith said. “For the NGO law, the organisations that have not implemented it will receive punishment including suspension of activities and fines.”

Smith also raised the issue of a potential anti-cyber crime law, but was informed by Kheng that it was still being studied by a working group, Sophanith said.

On overcrowding in prisons, Smith was told that the ministry is building a drug rehabilitation centre in Preah Sihanouk and that the ministry was keeping tabs on prisoners’ well-being.

In an email, Smith said the CNRP’s dissolution meant that “those who had previously voted for the CNRP lost their representation in the National Assembly and in the communes”.

“[A]nd there was discussion on the need to improve conditions in prison as well as look more closely at alternatives to sentencing as a means of reducing overcrowding,” she said.

She also discussed the September closing of the Cambodia Daily with Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth, whose tax department levied a more than $6 million bill at the newspaper, leading to its demise. She declined to divulge details except to say the conversation was in relation to previous correspondence on the issue released publicly in February.

Smith also met with former CNRP Commune Chief Sin Rozeth on Sunday, as well as Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Monday morning.

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