Just two days after they first went up, some of the Cambodia National Rescue Party banners demanding the release of jailed party leader Kem Sokha are already coming down amid government objections.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak yesterday endorsed the removal of the banners – which were installed in every province on Monday – maintaining they “affect order in society”.
“If 10,000 people are jailed, will they put up banners for those 10,000? The law doesn’t allow it,” he insisted, without specifying which law he was citing. “If they don’t [take them down], we’ll do it.”
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said the signs didn’t breach any element of the Criminal Code. “We will take nothing down till we receive [a Ministry of Interior] letter [with a] legitimate reason citing a law,” she said in a message.
However, Iem Ouen, deputy chief of Ratanakkiri province’s CNRP executive committee, said the party had already taken a banner there down after being approached by authorities. “My sister . . . was questioned by provincial authorities whether the installation of the banner was done with permission,” he said. “We decided to take it down because we thought that even if we ask for permission, they won’t allow it.”
But Sochua maintained the party didn’t need permission, and would replace the banner.
In Kampot, an unknown person removed one of the banners on Monday, according to CNRP provincial executive committee head Sam Chakrya.
The Interior Ministry’s Sopheak claimed the banners showed the party’s intent to overthrow the government via “colour revolution” – a term for popular protest movements that have brought down authoritarian regimes in the past.
“They gradually collect support, and when people get to 40,000 or 50,000, they’ll do it like in 2013,” he said, referring to opposition demonstrations calling for an investigation into election irregularities. “We knew that, and cracked down on the 3rd and 4th” of January 2014.
On those days, government forces opened fire into a crowd of unruly wage protesters, killing five, then violently evicted a peaceful opposition sit-in at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Chak Sopheap said in an email that authorities’ increasingly common references to colour revolutions were being “used as a pretext to silence any dissenting voice”.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara