More than 200 people representing three Preah Vihear province communities were set to discuss land disputes yesterday when police broke up their public forum, according to Tork Hong, a representative of a local community from nearby Prey Lang forest.
Organisers of the forum, which had been scheduled to take place in Chey Sen district’s Tasou commune, had sent a letter to District Governor Chum Poy’s office inviting him to speak, Hong said. However, yesterday morning, police arrived to break it up.
“They banned us from using a microphone or talking to people and asked people not to gather. And they said our letter is not correct, not enough. We wanted the district governor to come to the event in person to hold a question and answer session, but he didn’t even attend and closed our event,” Hong said.
Lor Chan, a provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he believed the forum was broken up to allow the governor to save face, a move he considered legally dubious.
“I think it is against the law, the Cambodian constitution, which includes the right to hold public forums, the right to assembly and the right to express opinions,” Chan said. “The district governor’s office cannot face the people’s questions because he has not solved the land disputes.”
The event was not the first of its kind to be broken up. Hong said a previous forum had been broken up in 2014. In that instance, she said, the district governor had explicitly given the event permission, but police arrived on the day saying the provincial governor had overruled him.
Representatives of the district governor’s office and district police were unreachable for comment yesterday.