Officials in Phnom Penh have allowed about 1,000 people representing a number of civil society organisations to conduct a rally today at Freedom Park to mark Human Rights Day.
The civil society organisations include the Cambodian Youth Network, Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association and the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community.
In a December 8 letter, Deputy Governor Mean Chanyada said the groups have been sanctioned to rally to celebrate International Human Rights Day today.
He added that demonstrators are not allowed to rally in front of the Council for the Development of Cambodia office or march on public roads.
“If the rally goes beyond the designated locations and obstructs public order, the law will hold these the representatives accountable,” Mr Chanyada said in the letter.
CYN vice president Sar Mory yesterday said that causing traffic congestion and affecting public order are inappropriate reasons to ban the full march.
“We have notified City Hall to allow us to organise a peaceful march and express our feelings,” Mr Mory said. “But instead of increasing cooperation and making it easier for us to express our opinions, City Hall is doing the opposite.”
“Our goal is to demand for the improvement of basic rights and democracy in Cambodia, especially for the youths and workers,” he added. “But through this letter, Phnom Penh officials are showing that the government is still not open to allowing the rights to assemble and express.”
City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey yesterday said City Hall does not want the group to obstruct public order and the flow of traffic.
“The authorities are not restricting their rights. I would like to ask them in return: is marching and walking on the streets part of expressing an opinion?” Mr Meas Pheakdey said. “They can do whatever they want as long as they do not affect others. If the authorities didn’t allow them to rally then that’s a different thing, but the authorities have already allowed it to happen.”
Last month, Interior Minister Sar Kheng issued a letter to all provincial governors to allow registered NGOs to conduct their field activities without having to notify local authorities.
In a message dated December 7, rights group Adhoc president Thun Saray said more Cambodians are understanding human rights and democratic issues, prompting the government to pay more attention to movements.
However, Mr Saray wrote that people are still facing challenges concerning land, migration, poverty, inequality and suppression on rights, including the freedom to gather and the freedom to express.
He noted that the government must take a greater role in paying attention to democratic issues.
“We ask that the government be open to the right to express in order for solutions to be provided for our people,” Mr Saray said.