Arrests made at Cambodia NGO law protest

A Cambodian protester carries a banner next to police officers during a rally near the Senate in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 24, 2015.
A Cambodian protester carries a banner next to police officers during a rally near the Senate in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 24, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodian authorities arrested six demonstrators Sunday as they protested against the recent passing of a controversial law regulating non-governmental organisations (NGOs), officials and a rights group said.

The six demonstrators - five men and a woman - were among dozens who rallied outside of the parliament building in the capital Phnom Penh.

Critics say the law will hinder the ability of NGOs to operate in the deeply impoverished nation.

Those who were detained had dressed themselves in prison uniforms and chained their feet together, an AFP photographer said. Their arrests came as riot police chased other demonstrators away from the parliament building.

"The six people were arrested during a rally to express their opinion against the law," Am Sam Ath, of local rights group Licadho, told AFP.

"They are being questioned" at a local police station, he added.

Long Dimanche, a spokesman for Phnom Penh City Hall, confirmed the arrests, saying police detained the group because "their activities are inappropriate and are not allowed by the law".

It was not clear yet if the five men and one woman would face any charges, he added.

Cambodia is home to some 5,000 NGOs, many of whom provide key services, particularly for the poor majority.

Rights groups, Western diplomats and the UN have criticised the new legislation which has been pushed by the country's strongman, Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Under the new law, which was passed earlier this month, all domestic and international NGOs will have to report their activities and finances to the government.

Failure to comply will result in fines, legal action, bans and "other criminal punishment".

NGOs can also be disbanded if their activities "jeopardise peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, and traditions of Cambodian society".

The law was passed in both Cambodia's legislative houses despite a boycott from the country's main opposition party and a string of vocal protests.

It still needs to be signed off by the monarch - a step that is all but a formality once legislation is approved by lawmakers.

Hun Sen, one of the world's longest-ruling leaders, marked three decades in power in January. He is regularly criticised by campaigners for stamping out dissent.