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CNRP leaders Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy speak during a press conference at a party office in Phnom Penh
CNRP leaders Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy speak during a press conference at a party office in Phnom Penh yesterday. Heng Chivoan

‘People’s congress’ to test ban

Opposition leaders yesterday announced plans to hold a thousands-strong “people’s congress” in the capital’s Freedom Park on Sunday, despite a ban on gatherings at the site.

Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy and vice-president Kem Sokha, following their return from overseas trips to Australia, New Zealand and the US, said they would bring 5,000 supporters to the park.

“It is necessary to meet with citizens, and I would like to stress to the [Cambodian] People’s Party that our gathering [on Sunday] is not a demonstration,” Rainsy said. “There will be no demonstration or toppling of anything. [The CPP] cannot use [this cause] as a pretext to accuse us and not allow us to [hold public meetings].”

Rainsy added that the meetings would provide ideas for the CNRP ahead of renewed negotiations with the ruling party, which the opposition hopes will involve the most senior members of the government.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, however, labelled the announcement a call for an illegal demonstration, and urged the CNRP to take its seats in parliament, saying: “His ‘congress’ is just words, but the reality is a demonstration. We already know this. So I would like [Rainsy] to release his 55 fighting cocks, and the CPP’s 68 fighting cocks will be waiting in the National Assembly.”

Rainsy added that a key CNRP demand for reform of the National Election Committee had been dismissed at negotiations, and called on the CPP to put forward its counter-proposal.

“If they do not agree, please propose another idea to guarantee independence of the NEC. What [ideas] does [the CPP] have? Come on,” he said.

Opposition leaders also questioned whether investigations into last year’s election and the violence against striking workers on Veng Sreng Boulevard in January had ever existed.

“We demand an investigation into the election,” Sokha said yesterday. “If there was no investigation, we demand a new election. What do citizens want us to do?”

But Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said a letter sent by the CNRP to City Hall requesting permission for the gathering would not receive a positive response.

“If we do not have the result of the investigation, then we still cannot allow [the CNRP] to gather at Freedom Park. We will consider their request,” he said.

Opposition spokeswoman Mu Sochua yesterday questioned the government’s commitment to a proper investigation. “We want an independent investigation. Look at [slain union activist] Chea Vichea, they’ve been ‘investigating’ Chea Vichea’s murder for 10 years,” she said.

Sochua added that talk of an investigation was being used as a pretext to deny people’s rights. “This is exactly the pretext to lift our constitutional rights,” she said. “We know that any kind of investigation is closed-door. That is totally unacceptable.

The prime minister himself has to talk about the investigation. How do we know there is an investigation?”

Ramana Sorn, freedom of expression spokeswoman at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said in an email yesterday that the ban on assembly at Freedom Park showed the government was unwilling to listen to dissenting voices.

“Freedom Park was established as a place where people could exercise their freedoms of assembly and expression; banning assemblies there makes it clear that the government’s intentions are to silence its own citizens,” she wrote.

“Any forms of blanket bans on assemblies are not only against Cambodia’s domestic laws – including the Law on Peaceful Assembly and the Constitution – but also against Cambodia’s Constitutionally-protected obligations under international law.”

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