The Phnom Penh municipal administration is warning that it will take legal action against the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) if the union does not put an immediate stop to its unauthorised protest gatherings in the capital’s Freedom Park.

The administration said that their protest was not in line with Cambodia's Law on Peaceful Assembly now that they have been served official notice that it must be discontinued. However, CITA claimed that the gathering there to express their opinions was lawful.

The dispute arose after CITA’s members gathered for a protest on the morning of December 30 at Freedom Park and then marched towards the Phnom Penh City Hall.

In a letter to CITA president Ouk Chhayavy and CITA board member Long Rim, Phnom Penh Municipal Deputy Governor Mean Chanyada asked CITA to put an immediate stop to the protest.

“We warn you in writing and ask you to put an immediate stop to your gathering… that is not in line with Cambodia's Law on Peaceful Assembly. In the case that you continue this activity, we will take legal action according to the laws in force,” the letter read.

Chhayavy said that the gathering was a protest to demand the release of “political prisoners” and such activities are central to the mission of CITA and allowed under the law.

The letter said that on December 16, the Phnom Penh municipal administration received a letter from CITA informing the administration of their intention to hold a public assembly to demand the release of certain political activists, social activists and members of trade unions who are currently in custody for a variety of alleged offences.

On December 22, the administration responded to CITA and invited both Chhayavy and Rim to a meeting to discuss the request. At that meeting they agreed to limit the subject matter for their protest and gathering to ensure that they were not in violation of Articles 522 and 523 of the Criminal Code and signed a letter to that effect.

Article 522 prohibits the “publication of commentaries intended to unlawfully coerce judicial authorities” and Article 523 prohibits the discrediting of judicial decisions.

City Hall’s warning notice to CITA also said that on December 30, CITA had gathered to protest near Freedom Park in Russey Keo and then marched toward the Phnom Penh municipal hall, an act that municipal authorities claim was illegal.

“The above-mentioned activity was not lawful under Article 5 of the Law on Peaceful Assembly as you did not notify us of this march. The activity was not lawful under Article 16 because you did not notify the competent authority, resulting in activity that affected public order,” the notice stated.