Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chuon Sovann on Wednesday ordered authorities in Phnom Penh to tighten their grip on a broad cross-section of groups, including civil society organisations and communities with “opposition tendencies”, that attempt to cause “social instability” and “political turmoil”.
Civil society organisations and former members of the opposition have already reported increased scrutiny and interference from authorities since last year’s roundly criticised forced dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the nation’s largest opposition party by far.
But Sovann yesterday called for even greater participation from all authorities to “prevent gatherings and other protests related to strikes, human rights, land disputes [and] respect for the Labour Law”.
“The effectiveness for solutions remains slow,” he said, adding that “huge” demonstrations could still take place.
Sovann said authorities would find out about the demonstrations after the fact, when they should be getting that information before those events even take place.
“Strengthen all the expert measures in [the] management and control of the information of civil society organisations, unions and communities having opposition tendencies both inside the country and outside the country attempting to cause social instability and … political turmoil,” he ordered authorities. “Do not let this happen in Phnom Penh.”
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party in January adopted a five-year political program that called for heightened internal surveillance and crackdowns on any opposition “force”.
Authorities must continue to monitor information from “unfriendly groups”, such as NGOs and unions, regarding “tricks to incite and divide national solidarity”, according to a recent security report referenced by Sovann.
Licadho human rights monitor Am Sam Ath said these actions by the government are restricting rallies and demonstrations as well as the right for people to express their views as guaranteed under Cambodia’s Constitution.
He said the measures will make civil society organisations feel “scared” and “threatened”, when they should be working as a partner with the government to continue to develop the country.
Him Yun, with the Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability, said NGOs “are not working against [the] government”.
“Cambodian society needs all stakeholders contributing efforts in development,” he said.
Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro