A day after Koh Kong police’s contentious removal of banners calling for the release of the “Adhoc 5”, Sre Ambel district officers tore down three more banners hung at villagers’ homes, claiming the display “affects peace and security”, with a Ministry of Interior official suggesting still more signs would be destroyed across the country.
District Police Chief Toun Sela said yesterday that he had ordered the commune police to remove the banners in his district, an action he said was not an infringement on private property.
“[The villagers] cannot place those banners recklessly everywhere . . . The banners affect peace and security. I don’t think it violates private property. They hung them in front of their house, and when we went there we called them and gave them an explanation,” he said.
When asked for the reason for removing the banners, he replied: “The arrest [of the Adhoc 5] did not happen here. If they want to hang the banners, they should hang them in Phnom Penh, not here.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak backed the banner removal, and maintained that calling for the release of the Adhoc 5 was against the law because it constituted an attempt to pressure the court. “The ministry has not instructed them to do this, but officials in other provinces can remove these banners and have the right to do it,” he said, dismissing any freedom of expression concerns.
The Adhoc 5 – current Adhoc staffers Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Nay Vanda, and ex-staffer and election official Ny Chakrya – have been detained for more than a year without trial on allegations widely believed to be politically motivated.
Chi Khor Krom Commune Police Chief Sak Bun Thhean said that under the district police’s orders, they went on Wednesday to remove the banners peacefully. “When we went there, we told them we would like to remove the banners. We don’t threaten them,” he said.
However, one of the three villagers, Nom Vannary, 41, said she was told by the police that they would remove the banner even without her consent.
“They requested us to remove the banner . . . They said that even without [our] consent, they will still remove it. They took our thumbprints to say that they did not steal our banner. I think it is so unjust,” she said.
According to Duch Piseth, advocacy director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the police had no legal grounds to remove the banners at villager’s homes without a court order.
“The Ministry of Interior and district police should investigate the case properly,” he said.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Nheab Sam Oeun said that the police’s actions infringed on the rights of the people and NGOs.
“I think what they are doing makes the villagers feel threatened,” he said.
Additional Reporting by Jovina Chua