An apparent war of words has broken out over the use of the word “condemn”, a term which has led to the Ministry of Justice issuing a warning to the Nation Power party.

Following the arrest of the party’s leader Sun Chanthy on incitement charges, his party issued a statement saying it “absolutely condemned” the arrest.

Chanthy was taken into custody over comments he made about the distribution of ID Poor cards, while addressing a conference in Japan.

The use of “condemn” drew an instant reaction from the justice ministry, who warned the party that their use of the word was in the wrong context. 

“The release of a statement ‘condemning’ the law enforcement entities is incorrect and unacceptable. The party must re-examine it and use language which is appropriate and ensures the legitimacy of law-abiding political actors in society governed by the rule of law.

Chin Malin, justice ministry spokesmen, explained that the term "condemnation" could be used only to refer to activities that violate the law.

“The use of this term against the legal authorities, who follow the Constitution, as well as all laws and procedures in force, is inappropriate. It shows irresponsibility and ignorance, whether by an individual or legal entity,” he said.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, believed that the word "condemn" refers to criticising something they believe is wrong, citing the definition from Chuon Nath's dictionary.

He said it can be used by anyone who observes something they think is wrong.

“In a liberal democracy, it is common to use the word 'condemnation' to describe something that is adjudged incorrect,” he added.

“It is very common to observe statements by civil society organisations, both domestically and internationally – and sometimes even by the embassies of some countries – that use the word, in response to certain actions that they see as inappropriate,” he continued.

Chhort Bunthang, Cultural Relations, Tourism and Education research officer at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that the term is used to suggest that someone is guilty of wrongdoing. He claimed that in practice, those who may use the term are the authorities, or those who have the role of overseeing the implementation of the law, not ordinary members of the public or political parties.

Citing the example of Myanmar, he explained that individual member states could not issue a condemnation, but ASEAN as a bloc could do so, at the request of its members.

As for past US condemnation of Myanmar, he suggested that the US may consider that it speaks for the UN Security Council, or thinks of itself as a superpower.

“Political parties have the right to campaign and participate in the election process, in order to compete for a leadership role. I don't think a party has the right to ‘condemn’ any group or individual, but they are entitled to ask the appropriate authorities to do so. This is my view,” he said.