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Thumbs-down from City Hall

An opposition supporter gives her thumbprints at the Cambodia National Rescue Party headquarters for a petition objecting to the result of the July 28 national election.
An opposition supporter gives her thumbprints at the Cambodia National Rescue Party headquarters for a petition objecting to the result of the July 28 national election. PHA LINA

Thumbs-down from City Hall

Opposition attempts to collect supporters’ thumbprints in public spaces across Phnom Penh have “endangered public order” and should be stopped, according to a letter from City Hall obtained yesterday.

But the Cambodia National Rescue Party yesterday vowed to continue its drive to collect “more than a million” thumbprints ahead of a planned October 23 rally.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khoung Sreng wrote to the CNRP on Tuesday to request that the party restrict the gathering of thumbprints to its offices.

“For days, CNRP activists have gathered supporters’ thumbprints in markets, public areas and houses in the capital,” Khoung Sreng said in the letter. “It has [negatively] affected people’s daily lives, disrupted their businesses, as well as affected people’s feelings and endangered public order, especially [as the CNRP] did not ask for permission from the authorities.”

The CNRP began the petition on Sunday following a party congress held in Freedom Park, which called for an investigation into the disputed July election.

Ho Vann, a CNRP parliamentarian and deputy chief of the party’s Phnom Penh working group, said yesterday he had not received the letter but added that he saw the move as an illegal attempt to silence freedom of expression.

“The municipality’s letter is illegal. [Khoung Sreng] has to recognise the rights of citizens to freedom of expression. I think it does not affect public order and there is no law [governing this], not even the Constitution,” he said.

“We will not stop. We will still carry on until October 21 and on … October 23 we will submit them to the United Nations and foreign embassies that are signatories of the Paris Peace Accords.”

The municipality did not specify what, if any, action might be taken if the request was ignored.

Srey Pov, 27, a food vendor in Meanchey district’s Chbar Ampov market, said she was not afraid of giving her thumbprint to the CNRP, because she wants to see political change.

“There is injustice in society that the present government never tries to settle, so we want new leadership,” she said, adding that if a ban was put into effect, the thumbprints would be gathered in secret.

Chan Soveth, senior monitor for rights group Adhoc, said the move was a further sign the authorities were ill-at-ease with people openly expressing their political opinions following the election.

“The government is worried, because it has only created a half-government, so they worry about people’s expression,” he said. “If one is not happy, they do not need to give their thumbprint, but they have no right to prevent anybody from giving theirs. If anyone prevents or intimidates someone for doing it, then it’s illegal.”

In August, the Cambodian People’s Party was accused of intimidating voters in the capital into lending their thumbprints to letters supporting preliminary election results disputed by the CNRP.

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