Authorities Instruct Boeng Kak Families on Protests, Interviews

Phnom Penh residents fighting pending evictions from Boeng Kak lake at the hands of a CPP senator’s real estate project said authorities yesterday placed rules on who they could meet and speak with. According to one legal expert, the rules go beyond the country’s laws.

Bov Sorphea said she and 15 other representatives of the hundreds of families facing eviction were meeting with Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith when he laid down the new rules.

“First, if we gather as we used to, we have to ask permission from the district office or the commune chief,” she said, recalling Mr Thirith’s orders.

“Second, if we want to hold a press conference or call journalists to meet, or if any journalists want to do an interview, we have to ask permission. And third, if we want NGOs to join us, we need to tell [authorities] and ask permission.”

But the representatives vowed not to comply.

“We, the people, don’t agree with his words, because we are suffering,” said Heng Mum, who also attended the meeting.

The residents said they also heard the rules from Daun Penh deputy district governor Sok Penhvuth when Mr Thirith called him during a meeting and put him on speakerphone.

Mr Penhvuth said the government had no intention of unduly restricting the residents’ right to protest, but insisted that they were legally obligated to give authorities at least three days’ notice.

“All citizens have equal rights, but their rights need to abide by the law,” he said.

As for contact with journalists, he said: “If they want to hold a press conference, they need to inform local authorities.”

A 2009 public demonstration law does require protesters to give authorities advance notice, but makes no mention of press conferences or contact with journalists and NGO workers.

Moeun Tola, head of the Com­mu­nity Legal Education Center’s labor project, said yesterday that the restrictions on the lake families’ contact with NGOs and journalists clearly violated their rights.

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