NGOs yesterday were granted permission to hold an International Human Rights Day event on Tuesday outside Wat Phnom – just a short distance from Freedom Park, where the Cambodia National Rescue Party has been given approval for a 10,000-person mass demonstration.
In letters signed by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, the ministry refuses both groups permission to march to the National Assembly but allows up to 5,000 people associated with the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) – a coalition of more than 20 NGOS – to gather in park land around Wat Phnom.
“The NGOs must respect the meeting held on December 5,” the letter says. “We allow 5,000 people – but they are not allowed to march.”
Suon Bunsak, executive secretary of CHRAC, said he was expecting a strong crowd at Wat Phnom, including CNRP president Sam Rainsy.
“We are expecting 5,000 people,” he said. “We have invited both political parties – and the president of the CNRP has confirmed that he will attend. We’re waiting to hear from the CPP.”
After the CNRP originally vowed to restrict its rally to Siem Reap so that civil society groups could use Freedom Park, the party said yesterday that it expected a crossover from the two events.
“We will demonstrate at Freedom Park,” CNRP lawmaker-elect Ho Vann said. “We have not spoken about joining the NGOs. [Supporters and lawmakers] can join in the name of Cambodian people, but the party is not involved.”
Bunsak said City Hall officials had first offered the NGOs another location, which they had refused.
After threatening to march to the National Assembly to demand the government take action to stop human rights abuses, they were offered Wat Phnom.
“Frankly, we are not disappointed not to be using Freedom Park. But we are disappointed not to be allowed to march in the streets,” he said.
Bunsak added that he did not expect any security issues for people wanting to go “back and forth” between the two sites.
Vann did not say whether his party would obey orders not to march to the National Assembly after the rally, but said CNRP activists would descend on Freedom Park on foot from three different directions.
As well as holding a mass demonstration, members of the CNRP, which continues to boycott the National Assembly over July’s disputed election results, will address those at the NGO event, Vann said.
“They have given us 10 minutes to speak,” he said. “They have also invited the ruling party. The NGOs are leading the events – we’re just asking for the government to follow human rights.”
Staying away from both Freedom Park and Wat Phnom on Tuesday will be the groups of monks who have been walking to the capital from provincial areas since December 1, But Buntenh, head of the Independent Monks Network, said.
Buntenh told the Post his group of marching monks – who have encountered difficulties from pagoda officials along the way – were within 27 kilometres of the capital.
“Now we’re facing difficulty with accommodation,” he said. “Monks are not allowing us to enter into temples. The temple committees are saying we can stay, but they’re not promising security.”
The monks, who set out from Pursat province on December 1, have been among a number of groups walking along national roads to the capital for International Human Rights Day.
The marchers’ plan to congregate outside the National Assembly, calling on the government to make a commitment to end human rights violations, Buntenh added.
“We’re going to the National Assembly,” he said. “We’re not going to Freedom Park or Wat Phnom.”
In a statement released on Saturday, Amnesty International said that it was concerned about roadblocks similar to the ones used during a protest that ended in police shooting dead a 29-year-old man in Phnom Penh in September.
“Amnesty International is concerned that razor-wire roadblocks appear ready for use in parts of the capital, and calls on the Cambodian authorities to facilitate rather than restrict people from participating in peaceful assemblies,” a statement says.
Amnesty adds that roadblocks used in September “unduly restricted freedom of movement in Phnom Penh in such a way that tensions mounted and violent clashes between people and security forces ensued”.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said discussions would continue today about what kind of security measures would be taken.
“So I cannot say what type of security or how much there will be,” he said.
“But we won’t be stopping them moving between the two locations. It is their right – but we are responsible for security.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he did not know whether the government would send someone to speak at the NGO-led event.