Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cambodia: Crackdown on peaceful assembly in Cambodia results in five injured


On 18 October 2013, a large group of youths and monks gathered at Wat Phnom pagoda to perform a traditional ceremony and pray for Mao Sok Chan, a 29-year-old father of four who lost his life during the clash at Kbal Thnol bridge on the night of 15 September 2013.

The morning gathering, which started off peacefully, transformed into a violent confrontation with security forces resulting in at least five people, including one foreign freelance journalist, receiving minor injuries. Four of the injured demonstrators were Ung Sohy, Tep Vanny, Heng Samnang and Keo Narong. The foreign journalist has not yet been named.

The organizers of the gathering had originally planned to march to the First Instance Court after the ceremony at Wat Phnom in order to submit a petition calling for an investigation into the death of Mao Sok Chan. The petition also called for increased independence of television stations, removing censorship and allowing stations to accurately report the real events that occur in Cambodian society.

The organizers were prevented from carrying out their plan by the Daun Penh security forces who disrupted the protest at Wat Phnom. They refused to allow participants and monks to perform the ceremony for Chan and attempted to confiscate the group's materials.

The security forces also attempted to seize the cameras of journalists and observers who were monitoring the event. The confrontation escalated when participants tried to protect their materials and equipment.

The event organizers submitted a letter of notification to the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall on 11 October 2013 informing the authorities of the event, as required under Cambodia's Law on Peaceful Assembly (the “Demonstration Law”).

However, due to an alleged administrative error, staff at the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall rejected the letter. The letter was submitted again on 16 October 2013 but received a negative response apparently as a result of late submission.

The rejection of the notification however was illegitimate, as the Demonstration Law requires that as long as groups notify the municipal authorities five days prior to the planned demonstration, the authorities are then required to permit the gathering. Although the second notification was not sent until 16 October, City Hall had already been notified of the demonstration on 11 October, even if the notification letter contained an administrative error.

The rejection of legitimate demonstration notifications by the Phnom Penh Municipality has become a regular occurrence during the current political stand off in Cambodia. It is the responsibility of the municipal authorities to facilitate these demonstrations, to maintain the peace, and to not unnecessarily restrict free expression and assembly.