The Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia kicked off its 16-day march from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap province Wednesday in a bid to promote freedom of expression, non-violence and political tolerance.
Around 200 members of AFEC—a coalition of 28 NGOs and labor unions—left Wat Phnom at 9 am following a brief ceremony attended by SRP leader Sam Rainsy and Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Kem Sokha.
“[AFEC] calls upon the government of Cambodia and the Cambodian public to uphold the spirit of tolerance and freedom of expression as the cornerstone of democracy and development,” AFEC said in a statement. It also called on the government not to use the law to silence people.
By 2:30 pm, about 100 people and four buffalo-drawn carts had made it to Bak Kheng pagoda in Russei Keo district’s Prek Leap commune.
Kem Sokha said he hoped he would make it on foot all the way to Siem Reap, but will reassess the situation after the first five days.
Six days ago, AFEC sent letters to the Council of Ministers and local authorities identifying the areas through which the march will pass—in Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom and Siem Reap provinces—to inform them of the march, CCHR spokesman Ou Virak said.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng issued a statement dated Feb 23 reminding AFEC to get approval from each commune the group would be marching through, in accordance with the law on demonstrations.
Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin said he will allow the protestors into Siem Reap town as long as they comply with the law on demonstrations.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said there is no real need to call for greater freedom. “We have freedom of expression everywhere,” he said.
Kem Sokha said he does not expect government interference during the march. “Everything we do, we follow the law,” he said. “I hope the government understands.”