In keeping with authorities’ indefinite ban on assembly, security forces yesterday morning dispersed a small gathering of nine youth activists who had planned to call for new elections and justice on behalf of recently slain protesters while singing songs about nonviolence in Freedom Park.
Hoping to skirt a rumoured 10-person limit on public gatherings, the nine singers – who were affiliated with a group called Khmer Youth Empire – were blocked from entering Freedom Park by more than 100 members of the military police.
The group instead briefly sang on the eastern side of Norodom Boulevard, across from Freedom Park, but was quickly shooed away by Daun Penh security guards, who then roved the area for several minutes looking for stragglers.
“We come to sing a peaceful song here to demand justice and a new election,” Heng Samnang, the 21-year-old president of Khmer Youth Empire, said. “However, we still continue our activity. Next time we will stir up youths to speak out. They know, they have heard, they are suffering a lot, but they do not know how to join [the movement].”
According to Samnang, Khmer Youth Empire has over 100 members, and is unaffiliated with the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The dispersal prompted the rights group Adhoc to issue a statement yesterday noting the government’s obligations to ensure freedom of assembly.
“In today’s Cambodia, even the smallest gathering is not tolerated. ADHOC reminds the government that the rights to free assembly is a fundamental tenet of democracy which they are bound by both domestic and international law to uphold,” the statement reads.
Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, however, defended the decision to disperse the activists and observers, saying that authorities cannot allow any group to gather at Freedom Park.
“[Samnang’s act of] expression is not in accordance with the law. He has not asked permission or informed the authorities. It is normal for authorities to go disperse illegal gatherings like this,” he said.