Phnom Penh City Hall has turned down two requests by non-governmental groups to hold rallies and marches to mark both International Teachers’ Day and the international day for housing rights.
Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), a local NGO, was denied permission to organize a rally at Wat Phnom and march to City Hall to mark International Habitat Day today. The Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) was denied permission to gather at Freedom Park and march to its offices in Chamkar Mon district on Sunday.
Municipal government spokesman Long Dimanche said the threat the events posed to tourists and traffic trumped the people’s constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
“Both CITA and the HRTF can celebrate the events at their offices or rent any private place to do it,” he said.
Mr. Dimanche added that Wat Phnom was particularly off limits because “it would cause traffic disorder, so we don’t want them to exercise their freedom of expression by taking the public streets hostage.”
Wat Phnom and the surrounding streets are an especially popular gathering place for the city’s pimps and street walking prostitutes, who often ply their trade from early in the morning until late at night with virtually no interference from municipal authorities.
Asked why their rights to assembly were not being similarly curtailed, Mr. Dimanche said there was no way of telling whether or not the women at Wat Phnom were sex workers.
“They don’t wear anything to prove” they are sex workers, Mr. Dimanche said.
Phnom Penh municipality said it was also banning CITA’s rally because it fell too close to today’s inauguration of a stupa to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and to the one-year anniversary of his death on Tuesday.
Despite the municipality’s ban, both non-government groups said they would go ahead with their original plans regardless.
“We will stick to our plan by gathering affected communities in Phnom Penh and from the provinces at Wat Phnom before marching to Phnom Penh City Hall,” said HRTF secretary-general Sia Phearum, who expected about 1,000 people affected by, or facing the threat of, eviction to take part.
CITA president Rong Chhun said his group planned on marching as well.
“According to the demonstration law there is no point that requires us to get permission, so I already informed them that I will gather 600 people to mark World Teachers Day,” Mr. Chhun said.
The Law on Peaceful Assembly requires groups to notify municipal or provincial governments of their plans and gives those authorities the right to reject plans if they fall on certain public holidays or if there is “clear information” they may jeopardize security, safety and public order.
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