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Cambodia passes 'state of emergency' bill

Cambodian national flag (Universal Images Group via Getty/Kyodo)

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- Cambodia's parliament on Friday adopted a controversial law that gives the government sweeping powers during an emergency, amid the current coronavirus pandemic.

    The draft "state of emergency" legislation was unanimously passed by the National Assembly, which is made up entirely of members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

    The law sets forth the procedure and conditions of declaring a national emergency "when the nation is in danger."

    It notably gives the government the right to restrict freedom of movement of assembly.

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended the law as necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he might need the emergency powers.

    However, rights group Amnesty International slammed the new law, calling it "totally indefensible from a human rights perspective."

    "While certain restrictions on human rights are permissible in emergencies, this is utterly beyond the pale," David Griffiths, head of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

    "This draft law is being rammed through the legislative process with no transparency, no consultation, and no due process. This is a blatant exploitation of public panic around COVID-19 and threatens to eviscerate the human rights protections which are guaranteed by the Cambodian Constitution and international human rights law," he added.

    Its passage comes a day after Hun Sen issued a directive restricting people from travelling across the nation, fearing the spread of the coronavirus during the traditional Khmer New Year celebrations next week.

    As of Friday, Cambodia has 119 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, of which 72 have recovered.

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