Provincial police broke up a gender equality event in Tbong Khmum yesterday despite the fact that the NGO hosting the event had received permission for the celebration, members of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC) said.
It was the second event held by the organisation to be disrupted by authorities in as many days. Phun Sophal, chief of CCFC in the province, said roughly 300 villagers had gathered at the event, held in honour of International Women’s Day, when provincial authorities came to break it up.
Sophal claimed that police had given the NGO written permission to hold the event but were upset when nobody attended a similar government-sponsored event at the commune hall. “The villagers gathered somewhere else, and they caused trouble for us in return,” Sophal said.
CCFC has had at least two events shuttered by police over the past two years – including one in Takeo on Wednesday – and was singled out as the only local NGO in a government-made video about “colour revolution” last year. In the video, the NGO was accused of attempting to recruit 70,000 people for a so-called “green revolution” ahead of the 2017 commune elections.
On Wednesday, four representatives of CCFC were stopped from hosting an event with local farmers and interrogated by Takeo police about their supposed connection to the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, a group formed by ex-opposition members overseas that the government has labelled a terrorist organisation.
Officials at the local, district and provincial level yesterday all denied issuing the order to break up the event.
Choam Kravien Commune Chief Beng Rithy maintained he was following orders from district authorities. “Regarding the issues of the CNRM, we did not accuse them,” Rithy said. “We just closed their forum, which did not follow the suggestions from the authorities, who did not want to have many places doing the same event.”
Memot District Police Chief Hong Kim Hoeun, however, said that he acted on orders from provincial authorities and did not know why the event was shuttered.
Tbong Khmum Deputy Police Chief and security head Huot Sothy also denied that he ordered the closure of the forum and said the decision rested with local authorities. “For me, I just sent my forces to investigate and take videos to send to provincial authorities,” he said.
CCFC Secretary Theng Savoeun defended the organisation’s right to hold the event separately from the similar one hosted by local officials, noting that the officials had rejected the NGO’s proposed programming.
“Once they get power, those authorities do not complete their duties properly and do not serve the public’s interest, but instead discriminate and restrict our freedom of speech and gathering, which is protected by national and international laws,” Savoeun said.