The Ministry of Education has fired four ex-Cambodia National Rescue Party members from their teaching jobs in Siem Reap province, according to a letter from Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron.
The teachers, who received the letter today, claimed the move was "politically motivated" and "unjust". The letter was signed on January 30, the same day the ministry finalised the termination of Rong Chhun, a former ministry staffer who resigned from the National Election Committee in protest of the forcible dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The letter asks the Siem Reap Provincial Education Department to “terminate” Hong Sokchea, a teacher at Hun Sen Tapenh Primary School; Peat Mab, a teacher at the Provincial Teacher Training College; Mut Morla, a teacher at Siem Reap Town High School; and Chan Sophea, also a teacher at Siem Reap Town High School.
The four were fired for being “absent without permission” since January 1, the same justification cited for terminating Chhun. All five had taken a leave of absence from their educational positions in order to take on political roles, Chhun as a CNRP-appointed official at the NEC and the four teachers in local level positions with the CNRP. Their jobs were ostensibly being held for them by the Ministry of Education, but were allegedly terminated because they did not seek to return to work promptly enough after their party's dissolution.
However Mab, a former deputy director of the CNRP in Siem Reap, said after the opposition was forcibly dissolved at the government's behest in November, the teachers filed a request to resume their education duties on December 11, but the provincial Education Department delayed sending the requests to the ministry until January 15.
“If I had not filed a request to [resume] work, it’s my mistake, but I did file” he said. “The Education Department suspended our work awaiting for a decision from the ministry.”
Mab had asked to take leave before becoming involved in politics a year and a half ago. He added that he was sorry about the ministry’s failure to comply with the law, but the ministry “worked more for the [ruling] party”.
Morla, a former executive director for the CNRP in Siem Reap, also denied having been absent without permission.
“This case is not my mistake, but the government officials discriminate against me,” he said. “It’s politically motivated and very unjust.”
Morla took leave a year ago. Sokchea and Sophea, meanwhile, had been commune council members in Siem Reap.
Soy Tithya Vong, director of the provincial Education Department, confirmed having received the orders from Chuon Naron and claimed it was in line with the ministry’s procedures, and he therefore couldn’t oppose the terminations.
“I only follow the ministry’s guidelines, and I’m not interested in anything more about these removals because they were absent without permission,” he said.
Chhun, who was also formerly the head of a teachers union, said the terminations were a violation of ministry rules as individuals had to be summoned first before termination.
The Education Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.