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Freedom Park braces for violence

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua is confronted and blocked by security guards
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua is confronted and blocked by security guards as she tries to enter Freedom Park in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Pha Lina

Freedom Park braces for violence

Elected lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party will be beaten by security forces if they are perceived to be violating the law during their visit to Freedom Park this morning, the Ministry of Interior said yesterday.

Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak reasoned that because the opposition members are not considered lawmakers until they take their seats in the National Assembly, which they have boycotted to protest last year’s elections, security forces are permitted to use violence against them.

Sopheak said that a letter sent to the ministry yesterday by CNRP members, which he said called for the ban on gatherings at Freedom Park to be lifted and expressed plans to rally today, has been interpreted as an attempt to hold a demonstration against the government.

“It means that [the CNRP] wants to demonstrate. They have not been made lawmakers yet, [so] police can beat them if they do this illegally,” Sopheak said, referring to parliamentary immunity, which is generally interpreted as a way of protecting lawmakers from arrest or prosecution, though it can be removed. “If they act according to the law, [we] will defend them. If they do anything illegal, the law will be imposed with force.”

CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha said the ministry’s threats contradicted previous government statements.

“It is good that the Cambodian People’s Party said that our lawmakers are not legal. [That means] that this parliament is not legal, because the parliament needs at least 120 lawmakers,” he said.

Sokha added that parliamentary immunity has no bearing on the treatment of opposition members, who he said have in the past been beaten by security forces while sitting on the National Assembly.

CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, who in April started the campaign to “free Freedom Park” since it was sealed off earlier this year to prevent opposition protests, said she was not concerned by the threats of violence.

“I don’t think I need to be a member of parliament to be at Freedom Park, I’ve already been elected by the people,” she said.

Ho Vann, another CNRP lawmaker-elect, told the Post that all 55 of the party’s elected lawmakers have been called on to join today’s rally.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY

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