Prime Minister Hun Manet has asked foreign diplomats who wish to support democracy in Cambodia to focus on law enforcement, rather than just on their perceptions of human rights and freedom of expression.

“I ask our friends, especially from liberal countries, who want to strengthen democracy in Cambodia, to strengthen the rule of law for everyone. We cannot make exceptions for opposition activists or allow anyone to break the law at will,” he said, during this morning’s launch of the Roadmap towards Global Health Coverage 2024-2035.

“Please remember that you should not help or encourage the wrong people. What you should do is guide them to ensure their actions are within the bounds of the Kingdom’s laws,” he added.

Manet linked his comments to recent legal action against Nation Power Party (NPP) president Sun Chanthy, who was charged with incitement after commenting on what he called “discrimination” in the issuance of ID Poor cards, which enable vulnerable people to access government support.

Manet said that politicians must maintain impeccable moral standards and be held to a higher standard than members of the general public.

“To all of our friends, before you comment on any case, do not consider who has been charged, but what offence they have committed. There are a lot of people who oppose the government. For example, out of eight million voters, only six million voted for the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP]. More than one million did not,” he explained.

Regarding Chanthy, Manet said the opposition leader had tried to use ID Poor cards as an issue to criticise the government and score political points over something the government has been doing for more than 20 years.

He noted that Chanthy has been a member of the opposition for many years, but legal action had only been taken at this time because he had crossed the line of acceptable freedom of speech.

He also said that he recently met with a foreign ambassador who had claimed that Cambodia has no freedom of speech, and had suggested that the ambassador read comments on social media and judge for himself.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID), believed that any country which respects the rule of law must have fair laws and that they must be applied equally to all people with no one above the law, especially regarding the contents of the constitution from 1993.

He urged increased political tolerance and called for people to refrain from overreacting to the opinions expressed by anyone, whether politicians, activists or members of the public.

“If there is more political tolerance, it will allow the public to participate more widely in the democratic process,” he said.