Human rights workers and political activists have called on the government to issue a new law covering peaceful protests and demonstrations, days after Sihanoukville villagers were nearly blocked by police from presenting a complaint to the National Assembly.
Adhoc senior investigator Ny Chakrya said the current law, written in 1991, is outdated and issuing a new law would be an important step for the promotion of democracy. Any delay in issuing a new law, he said, would demonstrate the government’s lack of will toward once again allowing nonviolent protests, virtually banned since the 2003 anti-Thai riots.
Sun Sokun Mealea, vice-president of the Khmer Front Party, also said a new law is needed as the government often uses the old law as a pretext to cracking down on peaceful demonstrations.
The calls for a new law came one day after police and military police tried to block more than 100 villagers from Bit Traing commune in Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district from going to Phnom Penh to complain about a land dispute, villagers said Tuesday. Some villagers said police harassment forced them walk for kilometers.
Seventy-four villagers eventually gathered in front of the National Assembly on Tuesday morning after travelling by motorbike, truck and on foot. After they gave officials a report and submitted a complaint, they were told to come back in 10 days.
District Governor Ban Sarom said he asked the villagers to stay in Sihanoukville because he wanted them to address the problem to the municipal government before taking it to the national level.
“I do not prohibit them from protesting,” he said. “It is their right to protest.”
A letter from opposition lawmaker Keo Remy dated July 17 asking the government to put a draft law forward for debate has already been sent by the National Assembly to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In his letter, Keo Remy noted: “There are a lot of controversies with the law as currently implemented.”