Freedom Park will remain off limits indefinitely for protesters, authorities said yesterday, despite Prime Minister Hun Sen suggesting last month that a ban on public assembly was being lifted.
Pich Saroeun, chief of Russey Keo district’s Chroy Changva commune, said Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong had announced during a road inauguration in his commune that he was placing a “temporary” ban on gatherings at the park.
The governor, Saroeun added, had given no firm indication of when that ban would be lifted, other than to say it would not be before investigations into the deadly violence of early January and other clashes were finished.
“The governor decided to temporarily ban strikes or gatherings at Freedom Park because what they did last time seemed against the law,” he said. “We do not know when the ban will be lifted, but it won’t be in place forever.”
Socheatvong could not be reached for comment.
Groups wanting to protest or gather could seek permission from the authorities, who would organise a venue for them elsewhere, Saroeun added.
“The governor appeals … to everybody to understand that this ban does not mean he discriminates against all gatherings – we respect and abide by the law.”
Since the return to the country of opposition leader Sam Rainsy last July, the Cambodia National Rescue Party has held regular rallies at Freedom Park, some of which have drawn more than 10,000 people and involved opposition supporters sleeping there overnight.
After the CNRP began daily rallies at the park in December – events that attracted many garment workers – the authorities violently cracked down on a gathering on January 4, driving supporters out and banning all public
In a speech on February 25, Hun Sen suggested the ban would be lifted and that his supporters might also demonstrate in Freedom Park – possibly with a brick wall or barbed-wire fence between them and opposition supporters.
Am Sam Ath, technical advisor for rights group Licadho, said the latest ban was effectively an attack on a constitutional right.
“I think this ban will affect the rights and freedoms of citizens and limit democracy in Cambodia,” he said. “I want the government and City Hall to reconsider this ban.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) and the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the ban would result only in protesters spending more time on the streets.
“I think it’s better for protesters if they stay in only one place such as Freedom Park,” he said. “But actually, protesters and citizens want to gather in front of the institutes that can help them – such as the Supreme Court and the National Assembly.”