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Govt pledges ‘flexible’ use of new protest law

Govt pledges ‘flexible’ use of new protest law

GOVERNMENT officials said Monday that a controversial law regulating public demonstrations will be implemented in a “flexible” manner, that protest organisers will be given significant leeway, and that the law will facilitate communication between protesters and the authorities.

Article 7 of the law, which will come into effect in June, requires any group wishing to hold a peaceful protest to submit a notification letter to municipal or provincial authorities no less than five working days before the intended date of the protest. Organisers of protests on private property and in “freedom parks” designated for public gatherings can submit notifications 12 hours ahead of time, provided they are attended by a maximum of 200 people.

The law also states, in Article 20, that a demonstration can be banned if there is evidence that it might threaten public security.

Nouth Saan, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said during a workshop in Phnom Penh on Monday that authorities planned to apply the law in a far less rigid fashion that its text might indicate.

“We are not going to count [participants], just give us an estimated number,” he said. “The implementation of the law will be flexible.

“There is no specific number here. The government will not restrict that, if it’s 2,000, 5,000 or 20,000 [people], it doesn’t matter,” he said.

He said the notification requirements are intended to give authorities enough time to prepare road closures and provide security in case demonstrations become violent.

Phon Bunthal, head of the Interior Ministry’s Legislation Council, said one purpose of the law was to open up the lines of communication between authorities and demonstrators.

“This is a new culture, to meet and discuss,” he said.

“If a demonstration is not allowed, they can discuss it further with authorities. If there is no solution, they can go to the courts.”

He added that authorities would face punishment under the law should mistakes be made in its implementation.

“We can arrest, detain and fine [participants] – they will be responsible for any offences. And if there are any serious administrative mistakes [by officials], they will be fired,” he said.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said after the workshop on Monday that the law should be changed to reflect the more lenient implementation terms that officials had outlined.

“What they said is not the law. The law says a maximum of 200 people,” he said. “If you have political strength, you should make the amendment.”

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