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Cambodia must stop harassing critics: rights group

Written By vibykhmer on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | 2:02 AM

A Cambodian girl stands amid a crowd of people during an event to mark the 60th Anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights in Phnom Penh. An international rights group has demanded Cambodia's rulers end a spate of legal action against critics, which it called the government's "harshest crackdown in years" on free speech.

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — An international rights group has demanded Cambodia's rulers end a spate of legal action against critics, which it called the government's "harshest crackdown in years" on free speech.

New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged premier Hun Sen's government aimed to silence political opposition and critics with a recent "campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action."

"The Cambodian government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," said the group's Asia director, Brad Adams, in a statement.

Cambodian authorities have lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, members of parliament, lawyers and critics of the government since April.

Criminal defamation cases against two opposition lawmakers are expected to proceed over the next weeks, and opposition newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer closed operations Friday to avoid prosecution for criticising government officials.

"The space of opposition media and peaceful dissent is rapidly shrinking in Cambodia, especially now with the closure of one of Cambodia's last remaining opposition newspapers," Adams said.

Cambodian government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The UN's human rights office in Cambodia also issued a report last month warning the spate of lawsuits against critics could nurture "fear, frustration and anger, with the risk of leading to further conflict and violence".

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