Bans Violate Election Law Right to Campaign, Comfrel Says

Bans issued by the municipality and Interior Ministry on assemblies in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park are not only unconstitutional, but also in violation of the Election Law, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said in a report released Tuesday.

The report also said that the National Election Committee (NEC) has not properly enforced the legal right of political parties to campaign for the upcoming council election.

“We found out that some authorities like the Phnom Penh authorities violated the Constitution and Election Law, because they banned Freedom Park and also they write to the NEC, asking it to ban election activities, especially rallies in Phnom Penh,” said Comfrel’s executive director, Koul Panha.

The report cites an April 30 notice sent by City Hall to the NEC, which said the election body should halt campaigns for the May 18 election that are carried out along the road or “oppose the law.”

“The intervention letter from Phnom Penh City Hall is without a legal basis,” the report says, adding that the government and CPP officials are also responsible for flouting the law.

“The NEC issued a soft letter asking the authorities to cooperate with political parties to allow them to conduct the campaign activities, but it’s not like a warning letter,” Mr. Panha said.

The Daun Penh district authorities have been particularly brutal in their dispersal of opposition rallies and on May 1 violently beat back journalists and party supporters who had gathered at Naga Bridge near the sealed-off Freedom Park.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that the municipal authorities have an obligation to maintain public safety.

“If there is instability happening [in Phnom Penh], City Hall is responsible, not the NGOs,” he said.

“Some places we have allowed to the election campaign marches, but some places we won’t, because it affects the freedom of other people.”

Freedom Park has been effectively off-limits to the CNRP since January 4. Since last month, it has also been blocked off by razor wire.

Keo Phalla, the director of the NEC’s legal service department, said he would not comment on the Comfrel report, but he said the NEC has received a total of four election-related complaints.

“In Kompong Chhnang, the CNRP accused the authorities of interrupting people from listening to the election campaign,” he said.

“Then the authorities filed a counter-complaint, saying that the CNRP is exaggerating the information.”

Two other complaints were filed in Phnom Penh and Battambang.

In addition, the NEC has registered 843 people from five political parties as election observers, Mr. Phalla said.

Another 159 observers, he added, are from four NGOs: The Traditional and Contemporary Mental Health Organization, the Federation of Human Rights and Cambodian Development Organization, the Federation of Students and Intellectuals for a Democratic Cambodia and the Cambodian Crime Prevention Organization.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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