The Cambodian Center for Human Rights has accused commune authorities in Svay Rieng province of monitoring telephone conversations by ordering that logs be kept of all calls made through public telephones.
CCHR alleged that the measure is meant to prevent locals from complaining about a recent land dispute.
In a statement issued Wednesday, CCHR President Ou Virak said that authorities in Romeas Hek district’s Kompong Trach commune had ordered people charging fees to allow the public to use mobile telephones to log callers’ names and addresses as well as the date and reason for their calls.
The policy violated constitutional guarantees of privacy in telephone communication, the statement said.
The policy began after local authorities threatened residents not to attend a Sept 13 CCHR public forum on a land dispute, Ou Virak claimed Thursday.
“They are afraid that villagers will report to NGOs and journalists,” he said, adding that he was calling for the removal of district Governor Mao Virak, as villagers allege that he is behind the land dispute.
Mao Virak said Thursday that he was not responsible for any land dispute. He also denied CCHR’s claim that he tried to prevent villagers from attending a public forum and, he added, he was also unaware of the telephone monitoring.
Kompong Trach commune police chief Chum Ry acknowledged that the phone surveillance program had begun but said it was meant to help fight crime, not to monitor human rights complaints.
“We are afraid that groups of robbers will plan where to rob,” he said, adding that robberies were rare in his commune.
Public phone operators were to inform police immediately of criminal conspiracies, he said. “This is security work.”
Ang Udom, head of the legal unit at the Center for Social Development, said the practice was indeed unconstitutional.
“This is in complete violation,” he said. “There is freedom of expression, and no one can do that.”