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A big thumbs-down

A Phnom Penh municipal official said yesterday that they would investigate mounting complaints that authorities have been forcing the capital’s residents to thumbprint letters supporting the preliminary election results and promising not to join demonstrations.

Residents in Daun Penh and Tuol Kork districts told the Post yesterday that they had been visited by local authorities during the past week and asked to sign the papers, while rights groups said they had heard of numerous such instances. Commune officials admitted that thousands had signed the petitions of support but insisted they had done so voluntarily.

“I don’t know about this, and it’s not an instruction from the municipality because it’s not legal,” Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said. “I will check with the local authorities about it.”

In Daun Penh’s Srah Chak commune, an internet shop owner who has run her business from her home for years said she fears she will be hassled by authorities in the future after refusing to sign.

“The authorities tried to get all eight members of my house who voted to thumbprint, but we all used excuses not to. Only my son agreed, because of our business,” said the 62-year-old woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I fear my clients who park their bikes outside will now get disturbance from the authorities.”

A 43-year-old in Tuol Kork’s Boeung Kak II commune, who also asked not to be named, said he was visited by his village chief last Friday and asked to sign.

“I did not thumbprint, but the village chief kept quiet and left my home asking why I didn’t when I’m a CPP member,” he said. “I am a CPP member, but it doesn’t mean I support the election through this way. This kind of act is a violation of people’s rights.”

After refusing to sign, however, the man said he had little hope that he could count on help from commune officials in the future. “I know our country is a country of partisans.”

In Teuk La’ak I commune, a man who would only give his first name, Sophal, said he too refused to sign.

“How can I thumbprint if the election is not free and fair? And, even though I didn’t give my thumbprint, the results will still show that the CPP won the election. So what’s the use of getting my support?”

Bech Sokhoeun, Teuk La’ak I commune chief, said he had already received petitions of support from 1,000 of the commune’s 6,000 voters.

“We do not force them to support but it is up to them. We have the letter, and if they support [the results], they can meet the village chief and sign straight away. If they do not, we do not force them,” he said.

But rights groups said the mere request constituted intimidation.

“The actions of the local authorities at Sangkat Teuk La’ak I are clearly incompatible with free and fair elections, and with freedom of expression in a democracy,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said in a statement on Monday.

Election watchdog Comfrel yesterday urged the authorities to halt the practice.

“This act is a new form of intimidation in the aftermath of the July 28 national election and a grave violation of the constitution, particularly of the rights to freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.

In Siem Reap, similar petitions were circulated among tour group operators last week, with owners urged to sign and have their hundreds of guides sign as well. The petitions have since surfaced on several government websites and state media as proof of support for the CPP’s win.



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