Banners calling for the release of the “Adhoc 5” once again caught the eye of law enforcement, this time in Pech Chreada district in Mondulkiri province, where a sign was moved inside by the owner after a call from police.
According to Deputy Police Chief Klang Chor, his boss had instructed him to remove the banner on May 6. “I called [the homeowner] to request that he remove it, then inform the commune and police. This banner makes people confused and curious why human rights defenders were arrested,” Chor said.
A Ministry of Interior spokesman has said the banners constitute an attempt to influence a court decision, though police in Koh Kong, where similar banners were forcibly removed last week, acknowledged there was no legal basis for their actions. Observers, meanwhile, have characterised the removals as intimidation.
Kreung Tola, the 27-year-old who put up the banner in Pech Chreada, said he has since moved it inside to avoid confrontation with the police.
“When I arrived at [Chor’s] house, he asked me which political party I am in. I told him to show me a removal warrant. He tried to compromise with me to place the poster in my house, so I moved it inside because I didn’t want to cause any more problems,” Tola said, adding that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.
The four current Adhoc staffers – Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Nay Vanda – and an ex-staffer and National Election Committee official Ny Chakrya, have been imprisoned without trial for over a year in a case widely believed to be politically motivated.
The removal of the banners last week from NGO offices in Koh Kong prompted widespread condemnation.
“This outrageous attack on free speech illustrates the increased shrinking of democratic space for civil society in Cambodia,” reads a statement released on Tuesday, signed by Adhoc, Licadho, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and a slew of other groups.
Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said that freedom of speech is protected, but only if it doesn’t harm others, affect public order or disturb the work of authorities.
“If those villagers strongly believe that what they are doing does not affect anyone, they should file a complaint to the court,” he said.
Observers, however, have maintained that without a court order, the signs’ removal is illegal in the first place.