PHNOM PENH, Feb. 4 (AP) - (Kyodo)—A Cambodian rights watchdog said Thursday that restrictions on freedom of expression increased in 2009, especially against politicians and nongovernmental organizations critical of the government.
In its annual report on the country's human rights situation, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) said at least 22 complaints were filed by government officials against dissident politicians and civil organization representatives last year, with an additional 25 complaints against journalists, some of whom were imprisoned.
It said freedom of assembly, exercised through nonviolent protests, was also strongly restricted, particularly in relation to the victims of forced evictions.
Despite fewer crackdowns compared with 2008, peaceful demonstrations against private companies linked to high-ranking military officers or government officials were severely suppressed by the armed forces, it said.
The report noted that demonstrations against commodity price rises, border disputes, or the implementation of government policies are forbidden.
ADHOC also said threats against human rights defenders have been a major and continuing concern over the past three years and that compared with 2008, 'the threat to human rights defenders has increased considerably" over the past year.
In 2009, it said, 235 human rights defenders, mostly land rights defenders, were charged with offences. "Of greater concern still, several human rights defenders have been threatened by the courts with the charge of incitement," it added.
When contacted for comment on the report, Phay Siphan, secretary of state and spokesman ofCouncil of Ministers, said that the increase in court cases merely means Cambodia is "implementinglaw enforcement" and asserted that the judiciary is playing a "major role in protecting people's rights."