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The price of freedom

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua is prevented from entering Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park by municipal security personnel earlier this month
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua is prevented from entering Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park by municipal security personnel earlier this month. Pha Lina

The price of freedom

Article 41 of the Cambodian Constitution stipulates that “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly. No one shall exercise this right to infringe upon the rights of others, to affect the good traditions of the society, to violate public law and order and national security.”

Article 28 of the 2009 Law on Peaceful Demonstration stipulates each capital and province shall create a “Freedom Park” for holding peaceful assembly or public expression. Freedom Park in Phnom Penh was built in June 2010, costing more than $18,000.

My attempts since April 1 to exercise this constitutional right to use Freedom Park have come with a heavy price of being manhandled, brutally pushed off by herds of hired security guards in black helmets and armed with batons, verbally insulted and ridiculed as an insane woman.

The youth and the public who have followed me to Freedom Park have been brutalised, wounded and shamed.

When asked why Freedom Park is off limits to me, the same answer is given by the authorities: “you have broken the law”.

When challenged, the deputy governor of Daun Penh district, who is permanently present as the main authority at Freedom Park, always fails to cite to me the law he is using to order the crackdown.

When asked why he does not arrest me, he usually walks away and screams harder the order in his walkie-talkie: “kick her off”.

When the “black helmets” fail to push harder, the deputy governor orders more troops, including the police, to ensure my supporters and onlookers are completely out of sight.

My continued visits to Freedom Park are judged by the authorities as an act that “infringes upon the rights of others, affects the good traditions of the society, and violates public law and order”, therefore the violence used and the savage indiscriminate beatings of citizens and journalists are to them justified.

The grave violations of human rights committed by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen to silence its opponents and the media are systematic, predictable and with a clear repressive pattern.

When the constitution and adopted laws are compromised, when Cambodia as a signatory of international laws continuously fails to fulfil its obligations to protect the fundamental and constitutional human rights of the people, the slightest hope to build real democracy is compromised.

The repressive system may serve to fulfil the Cambodian People’s Party’s desperate need to control people’s lives and to remain in power, but it is succeeding in further undermining the democratic legitimacy of Mr Hun Sen as a leader who can govern and a statesman who can be among the world’s democratic leaders.

For justice to the victims of the violent crackdowns of public demonstrations and as preventive measures, the safeguards for freedom of speech, of assembly and of information must be built and strengthened with transparency and accountability from those whose functions are to serve the public and to provide safety and security to the public at large without discrimination.

It is imperative that the government of Mr Hun Sen review its policy on the provision of public security and take immediate action to sanction those officials in charge who abuse their power.

It is imperative that officials in charge of the armed forces that include the military and the police denounce their positions in the structure of the CPP so that the public can be ensured of their neutrality and impartiality of the execution of the laws.

It is of immediate necessity for Mr Hun Sen to review the performance of the Phnom Penh governor, who is the chief of the Unified Command Committee in charge of the mixed security armed groups.

We call for the suspension of the deputy governor of Daun Penh for his direct role in the violent crackdowns of protesters that included women, children, the elderly and our venerable monks.

There must be a stop to the use of hired security guards as an untrained force to spread terror, to intimidate and to harm the public.

The blanket ban on the use of Freedom Park and of public demonstrations is not justifiable, as the country is not in a state of emergency.

The ban has a negative impact on the business community and investors. Democracy is not silent but loud. People’s voices must be heard to build national cohesiveness.

Freedom Park is a public space provided by a specific law and safeguarded by the constitution of the Kingdom. No lives should be lost to defend the people’s freedom of speech, of expression and of information.

May the spirit of Freedom Park remain forever strong.

Mu Sochua is a lawmaker-elect of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

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