CITY HALL this week pointed to a public park in front of the railway station and an area near Wat Phnom as two possible locations for a “demonstration zone”, which will be established to accommodate gatherings of 200 people or less, officials said Wednesday.
The creation of demonstration zones, also known as “freedom parks”, is required in all municipalities nationwide under the new Law on Nonviolent Demonstrations, which was passed by the National Assembly in October and will come into effect in June.
The two possible locations for demonstration zones in the capital were floated by Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chutema during a meeting of officials at City Hall on Tuesday.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun confirmed on Wednesday that the two sites had been discussed, but he emphasised that a final decision has not been reached.
“We already have a plan, but the specific location has not yet been decided because it needs to be approved by the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
He added that both sites would meet requirements stipulated in the demonstration law, which states that “freedom parks” should be located in places “which the general public can easily hear and see”.
Rights workers as well as the opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Wednesday expressed doubts that the two proposed sites would be prominent enough.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the proposed site near Wat Phnom – located close to Spean Neak, or Dragon Bridge – would be preferable, but that neither was “visible enough to influence policy makers”.
“The area near the railway station is central enough, but it is not visible enough,” he added.
He said there was only one site that would be appropriate for a “freedom park” in the capital.
“Right in front of the National Assembly would be the best place for a freedom park, because that’s where the decisions get made,” he said. “It should be easy to decide where it goes.”
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said Wednesday that the new law imposes undemocratic restrictions on people’s right to protest. “We have never supported the law, but it was adopted, and therefore we will request that every location created for public gatherings must be near to government buildings so that their voices will be heard,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BROOKE LEWIS