Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng slammed Lay Vanak, the Takeo provincial governor, at a monthly meeting of high-ranking officials on Friday for what he characterised as the governor’s botched handling of a Human Rights Day march.
In a recording of the meeting, Kheng can be heard praising other provincial governors and police officials in attendance, saying that they had done a good job of preserving freedom of expression on Human Rights Day.
He reserved much harsher words for Vanak, however, accusing him of inappropriately allowing authorities to block monks and rights activists in the province who, like several groups from around the country, were seeking to march into Phnom Penh to take part in Human Rights Day celebrations.
“They were just marching without holding sticks or weapons, but you [Vanak] took an extremist measure. It was a useless [measure] that the public criticised and insulted us for,” Kheng said. “Next time you have to ask me.”
At one point, Kheng also appeared to chastise Vanak for summoning a court official to explain a recent arrest, saying the action constituted a violation of the court’s independence.
“[You] don’t know about your work,” he said.
According to Nut Chamroeun, of the rights group Adhoc, more than a hundred monks and rights activists who had planned to march to Phnom Penh were blocked by soldiers and police at their starting point in Takeo province’s
Kirivong district on December 4 and 5.
Local authorities had told participants that they would not be allowed to march without permission from the Ministry of Interior, she said.
“It was not a demonstration, people just wanted to march to celebrate International Human Rights Day. Therefore there is no need to ask for permission, and we people can just inform the local authorities for their own information,” Chamroeun said.
Vanak could not be reached yesterday, and Nou Sovanny, Takeo’s deputy provincial governor, declined to comment.