Opposition members in Kampong Chhnang say they have been banned from meeting since the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha on Sunday, with the provincial police chief yesterday saying he would “not allow” the party to “discuss politics”.
Keo Tha, provincial CNRP executive committee chief, said many communes were meant to have regular scheduled party meetings in the last few days, but were banned by police from gathering, even at their own party’s office or at a home.
He said the restrictions began just after Sokha was arrested during a raid at his home early on Sunday morning after a years-old video, in which he discusses assistance from the US in planning his political career, resurfaced online.
Sokha was officially charged with treason on Tuesday.
“I think that the situation is very severe in Cambodia, especially at the local level,” Tha said, adding that members can’t even meet for regular party affairs, such as making reports about problems within their communes and discussing voter registration.
“We ask civil society groups and the government to reconsider [their actions], and stop the restrictive measures to ban the processes of the CNRP at the local level,” he said.
Cheang Sarun, recently elected as the CNRP’s Popel commune chief, said police banning their meetings was in violation of the right to peaceful assembly, which is guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution.
“Kampong Chhnang Deputy Provincial Police Chief Sum Socheat told the CNRP to stop gathering party members in public places and at the party’s office because they were afraid we would talk about Kem Sokha,” he said.
Mao Phally, the CNRP chief of Ponlai commune, said during a recent monthly CNRP meeting in Boribor district, Socheat took the opportunity to inform members not to get involved with Sokha’s case.
“Do not think about it, and just do your work normally and firmly. Do not allow meetings or discussions about Kem Sokha,” he said Socheat told them at the time.
Socheat yesterday said the opposition wasn’t barred from meeting for routine business, but insisted they were not allowed to gather to discuss Sokha.
“If the opposition party group gathers and discusses Kem Sokha, they will be banned – we do not allow them to discuss politics,” he said, without offering a legal rationale.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said what police were doing was “intimidating rather than law enforcement”.