The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) has asked the Interior Ministry to investigate allegations that local authorities are violating ministry guidelines that allow communities and organisations to hold gatherings.
Adhoc said some local officials still require people to request permission before holding gatherings, despite this being contrary to a directive issued by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.
Srey Naren, Adhoc’s Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator, said on Tuesday that even though Sar Kheng had said late last year that organisations and associations could organise gatherings without asking for permission, a series of training courses planned by Adhoc in April and May to publicise human rights were restricted by the local authorities.
He said the authorities had watched over the gatherings and banned residents from attending. “I still wonder why they did so, because Samdech Krala Hoam Sar Kheng has given them instructions, and they acted contrary to his guidance.
“So maybe they think they are even bigger than Samdech Krala Hoam. We don’t know whether the provincial police chief ordered them or they did it of their own free will,” Naren said.
On Sunday, Path Kim, the police chief of Konkriel commune in Oddar Meanchey province’s Samrong town, allegedly banned 134 families from gathering to speak about the forestry law because they had failed to inform him in advance.
Ratana Roka community leader Tmin Se said when they were half-way through the event, Kim told the village chief to instruct the residents to disband. “Afterwards, we called the station police chief to tell him that we had already informed the village chief and the commune chief.
“But he said we had done it incorrectly. He said that as long as he was informed, then the gathering could go ahead.
“He said that only informing the commune chief was not okay and that if there are more than two people at the gathering, an agenda must be submitted,” he said.
Konkriel commune police chief Kim could be reached for comment.
On July 31, Adhoc released a statement saying that the association had recorded 71 cases in which the freedom to gather was restricted by local police and authorities.
Yong Rann, a Thma Da community member in Pursat province, said the Community Legal Education Centre in Veal Veng district on Tuesday organised a training course on land rights and the use of natural resources for food security.
She said an official prevented 34 residents from participating because the organisers had failed to ask for permission from the commune chief. “Some commune residents have been land victims of Try Pheap [Engineering & Construction Co Ltd] for 10 years.
“When the residents gathered to learn about the relevant laws, the authorities stopped them. We just want to hold a training course on the law, we don’t need to submit a letter,” Da said.
Sar Kheng said in a directive dated November 27, last year: “NGOs and associations, including local communities that have already registered with the ministry, have complete freedom to legally carry out activities without having to inform local authorities three days beforehand as they did before.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment, while National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun could not clarify the matter, saying that some officials could be acting on the orders of provincial leaders.
“Ask the provincial governor if there are orders to the local police station or not. If there are orders, come back and tell me. I will contact them and ask why they went to stop the gathering,” Kim Khoeun said.
Oddar Meanchey deputy governor Vath Paranin said the province had not ordered the district and commune officials to ban the gatherings but he said Adhoc should inform the authorities in advance when they run a training course or want to publicise something.
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability executive director San Chey said obstructing gatherings infringed the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and also the Ministry of Interior’s directive.
“The Ministry of Interior should study these cases and look into what measures could be taken against local officials,” he said.