Phnom Penh City Hall issued a letter Monday banning a group of monks who have marched cross-country to mark International Human Rights Day from completing the final leg of their journey, in which they had hoped to hand petitions to lawmakers at the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Five groups of marchers converged on Phnom Penh on Monday, the penultimate day of a 10-day walk along the country’s main arterial roads, bearing petitions with hundreds of cases of human rights abuses collected along the way.
The group, which leaders say is likely to be 2,500-strong by the time it converges on Phnom Penh, had planned to march as a whole to the gates of the National Assembly to air its grievances.
“Phnom Penh City Hall allows you to celebrate International Human Rights Day at a park opposite the Council for Development of Cambodia from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.,” says the letter, signed by Phnom Penh deputy governor Khuon Sreng.
“After the celebration, you can assign 10 representatives to take petitions to parliamentarians at the National Assembly. The march is not allowed.”
Last night, the Venerable Bun Buntenh, who heads the Independent Network for Social Justice and helped organize the march, said he was considering how to deal with City Hall’s directive.
“They have prohibited us from walking [to the National Assembly] so we need to decide whether to confront, whether to negotiate,” he said.
“They say we can stand at one place, but we do not accept. It is International Human Rights Day, and it is a basic human right that the government is trying to violate.”
On their way to Phnom Penh, the groups of monks have reported several instances of being barred from resting at pagodas in the countryside, at times allegedly on orders of local authorities. On Monday, despite having arranged to spend the night at Neakavon pagoda in Sen Sok district, monks marching along National Road 4 were turned away when they tried to rest there, according to the head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor rights program, Moeun Tola, who has closely monitored the marches.
“The marchers were not allowed to enter; the pagoda was locked,” he said.
“But after they [the marchers] attempted to block the road [Russian Boulevard], some orders came, probably from one of the top monks in Phnom Penh, and they were let inside to sleep on the pavement and the balconies,” he said, adding that facilities inside the pagoda were locked and the electricity had been turned off.
(Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean)
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