Final approval has been granted for Freedom Park, Phnom Penh’s designated demonstration zone and the home base of mass anti-government demonstrations after the 2013 election, to be moved to a new patch on the city’s outskirts, City Hall confirmed on Tuesday.
Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested that Freedom Park be moved north to an industrial area in Russei Keo district due to it causing “anarchy” in its current location, which lies between Wat Phnom and Vattanac Tower in the city’s center.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said on Tuesday that municipal authorities received a letter from the Interior Ministry last week telling officials to move forward with plans to prepare a new protest space at an existing public park along National Road 5.
“We just received the approval letter from the Ministry of Interior last week and now we are going to develop that place,” he said, adding that would-be demonstrators would still be allowed to submit requests to rally at the current location until the new area is ready.
Freedom Park has been symbolic of the fluctuating political situation since the CNRP made shock gains against the CPP in the last national election. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters flocked to the park during demonstrations in late 2013 and early 2014, before the government violently cleared the park and then cordoned it off with razor wire.
In recent months, it has hosted occasional protests, but is mostly used for evening volleyball and football games.
Bov Sophea, an activist from the capital’s eviction-hit Boeng Kak neighborhood, slammed the decision to push Freedom Park to the outskirts of the city.
“If we go to gather there it’s like we’re expressing our opinions only for the trees or the roads to listen to us,” she said.