The organisers of the weekly forum Politikoffee confirmed yesterday that they plan to temporarily suspend operations beginning this week as a result of members feeling they “cannot work to their full capacity” amid an ongoing political crackdown.
The informal group, mostly run by and geared towards young people, often features political figures speaking candidly about the political situation in Cambodia.
“There is no direct threat and no direct intimidation made by anyone against our group, which peacefully believes in diversely engaging various different sides of political beliefs,” the Politikoffee team said in an email on Monday, adding that activities will resume in the future.
The voluntary suspension follows the dissolution of the main opposition political party and the closure of critical media outlets, and coincides with threats against the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, a prominent rights organisation that has not hesitated to criticise the government in the past.
Yoeurng Sotheara, a legal officer at election watchdog Comfrel, said he “regrets” that Politikoffee felt the need to suspend activities, as the forum encouraged young people to get involved in politics.
“It was a space that allowed an opportunity for young people to engage in critical thinking about the political situation in Cambodia,” Sotheara said.
He blamed the “narrowing down of space and accessibility of knowledge” for the forum’s suspension.
Heng Yong, a frequent attendee at Politikoffee events, which were held in the capital, said the suspension will negatively impact youth involvement in politics, and blamed it on political “tension”.
“This situation makes the experts and guest speakers hesitate or temporarily suspend their public activities,” Yong explained.
Naly Pilorge, with human rights group Licadho, said the right to participate in public debate was fundamental.
“I believe in any progressive and functioning society, the right to access independent information and debate amongst peers about politics, health care, education, economy and other key issues that affect youths is as important and fundamental as the right to food or the right to shelter,” she said.
Updated Wednesday, 29 November, 8:31am