Hundreds of civil society representatives, garment workers and community groups are expected to take to the streets this morning to deliver petitions to foreign embassies calling on the government to release the 23 people arrested during garment worker strikes earlier this month and find justice for those injured and killed in the violence.
While organisers insist their actions do not constitute a march, the three-day event involving 19 embassies comes two days after the government’s ban on public assembly and demonstrations was tested by a significantly smaller event, with riot police disrupting a vigil for the 23 in custody and making one arrest near the Royal Palace on Sunday.
A military police spokesman yesterday said the group would be “dispersed” if it caused traffic jams or disrupted social order.
Petitions signed by 181 local and regional civil society organisations are to be hand-delivered to the US, UK, French, German and Japanese embassies from 8am this morning, with seven more embassies scheduled for Wednesday and another seven, plus UN offices, for Thursday.
“We strongly condemn the use of brutally excessive force, arbitrary arrests, killings and inhumane treatment by the Cambodian authorities,” a joint statement released yesterday by the civil society groups says.
“We appeal to the international community to take action on this inhumane treatment on Cambodian citizens.”
Sia Phearum, director at the Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), said communities affected by land disputes, including those from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila, would join to “hand-deliver” the petitions.
“We have no plan to march. Most of us NGO [workers] have motorbikes, but for community [groups], we don’t have a tuk-tuk, [so] if they have no transport, they can walk on the parkway,” he said.
“The parkway is a public space that everyone can access and walk on. We are not marching, we are not protesting. They [can] walk on the sidewalk because they pay tax to the government.”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the group had not requested permission from the municipality.
“They don’t have permission, so if they do it, it means they are abusing the law,” he said.
The authorities would observe the behaviour of those participating, and take note of any wrongdoing, he added
“It is like playing football. If they have a mistake one time, then they will receive one yellow card. One more time, another yellow card. [On] the third time, they will be kicked out.”
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said that security forces would take action only on orders from the authorities or government.
“We have our measures, but we will [only] do it if there is an order. And, of course, if their rally causes traffic jams or social disorder, then we will disperse them.”
The municipality’s ban on public gatherings and demonstrations remained in place and enforceable, Tito added, though in some cases a compromise could be reached.
“We have always prepared [to maintain] and secure social order and to avoid violence. This is our task.”
HRTF’s Phearum said he was concerned about a police crackdown, but emphasised the groups would not be doing anything against the law.
Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said that no representatives from the Cambodia National Rescue Party would attend the events.
Lyda Ngin, media and communications coordinator at umbrella group The NGO Forum on Cambodia, said although they were worried about a potential crackdown, civil society groups had a plan if blocked by authorities.
“If the authorities come, we will all sit down. And if they ask us to go anywhere, we will not go. And we will not [act] in a violent way.”